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Fracking’s Toxic Secrets: Lack Of Transparency Endangers Public Health, Advocates Say

November 23, 2012

Huffington Post reporter Lynne Peeples has done an excellent job reporting on Pennsylvania DEP’s failure to disclose gas drilling-related contaminants in drinking water to the residents drinking that water. Here’s an excerpt from her November 21st article, “Fracking’s Toxic Secrets: Lack of Transparency Over Gas Drilling Endangers Public Health, Advocates Say“:

The DEP and natural gas companies are defending the testing methods, asserting that the contaminants most likely to be associated with fossil fuel extraction are included in what is shared with the DEP and, subsequently, with homeowners.

Still, critics suggest the purported “filtering” of testing data is just one of the ways people are left in the dark about the assortment of heavy metals and other toxic contaminants that may be in their air and water as a result of drilling, hydraulic fracturing and other phases of natural gas production. Recent studies have identified more than 600 chemicals used throughout the process of natural gas production, and often left undisclosed by companies. Additionally, natural but equally hazardous substances can be released from the wells.

The Huffington Post spoke with the Headley family in southwestern Pennsylvania. The Headleys are among the families which have a “942 code” on their drinking water test, meaning PA DEP has never shared the complete results of its test with the family. The Headleys report health impacts they believe is due to both water and air impacts from shale gas drilling:

In April 2010, four years after the first natural gas well was drilled near his home, the DEP tested Headley’s drinking water and reported low levels of barium, strontium and manganese.

“We were told the water was safe to drink,” David Headley said. “But we had an infant in the house, and a pre-teen. We weren’t about to let them drink it.”

The test results were labeled with the now-controversial Pennsylvania DEP code 942, which tells the testing lab to send back just a subset of results. Among 24 heavy metals tested, for example, results of just eight are ultimately verified and reported. Aluminum, silicon, titanium and lithium are among the excluded metals.

“A number of those other metals could be present,” said Tony Ingraffea, professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Cornell University. “I know for a fact that lithium has been found in drinking water tests done on families who have complained due to nearby drilling or fracking.”

Huffington’s Peebles did her homework and spoke with expert Theo Colborn, as well:

Theo Colborn, an expert in toxic chemicals and president of the Endocrine Disruption Exchange, said that fracking fluid is just one component of the huge pollution problem stemming from natural gas production.

Around wells in rural Colorado, her team recently detected high concentrations of contaminants in the air, including methylene chloride, a toxic solvent not disclosed by industry but reported by residents and gas field workers as being stored on well pads for cleaning purposes. The levels of the contaminant peaked before the fracking phase even began.

As for David Headley, ShaleTest recently looked at the air quality around his home and detected high levels of many toxic chemicals, including acetone and carbon tetrachloride.

Between contamination of the air, ground and water, Headley said he still doesn’t know what chemicals his family may have been exposed to over the past few years. He added that such a lack of information has hindered the ability of doctors to pinpoint the cause of his son’s stomach cramps as well as the skin rashes and chronic coughs affecting his whole family.

It makes the future look “scary,” he said.

Please read the entire Huffington Post article here. It’s one of the more accurate, in-depth, vivid and relevant articles to come out since the DEP water-testing scandal began.

We appreciate Peebles for her competence and for her refusal to let the story be fractured. Both impacted people and scientists matter; advocates are in the picture; and water and air impacts are not separate from each other, especially for the people living with fracking’s “toxic secrets” day to day. Become part of the Toxic Secrets Campaign today: for starters, tweet, facebook and otherwise share this post. Information is power.

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