Chemicals from fracking, acidizing, and gravel packing make us sick

12.11.2014   •   Sarah Craig

fracking health people

Chemicals from fracking, acidizing, and gravel packing make us sick
The top 5 chemicals -- that you can see the health impacts for above -- are being used in Los Angeles to frack, acidize, and gravel pack amongst thousands of people.

"Chemical Impacts on the Body" by Faces of Fracking, CC BY-NC-ND 4.0

It is well-known that many of the chemicals used in fracking, acidizing, and gravel packing are harmful to our bodies. Just look at the above graphic. What hasn’t been so clear is the evidence that highlights incidences where these chemicals have actually made people sick.

There are two main factors why we still don’t have a comprehensive overview of the health impacts of fracking: industry secrecy (there are laws that protect companies from disclosing the chemicals they use) and government inaction (for example, the EPA has backed off several studies to investigate the health impacts of fracking). Additional factors compound the problem: non-disclosure agreements, sealed court records, and legal settlements (all which prevent families and their doctors from talking about how they got sick).

Nevertheless, the stack of evidence that tells us that fracking and similar techniques does make us ill is piling up. Based on peer-reviewed studies, accident reports, and investigative articles, we know now that fracking can not be practiced without endangering human health. Chemicals can and do leak from well casings and get into the water supply. Chemicals released into the atmosphere worsen our air quality. Chemical spills from pipelines get in the soil we use to grow food.

Let’s look at Colorado. In June 2014, a team of researchers from the University of Missouri found that water samples from confirmed fracking spills in Garfield County exhibited high levels of estrogen and androgen-disrupting chemicals. All of the 24 chemicals tested by the study are known to block the activity of one or more important hormone receptor in the human body, and this hormone disruption has been associated with many poor health outcomes, such as infertility, cancer, and birth defects. In February 2014, a study funded by the Colorado School of Public Health found that babies whose mothers lived in a 10-mile radius from natural gas wells were more at risk of congenital heart defects and possibly neural tube defects. This past April, NOAA scientists found benzene and VOC (volatile organic compound) levels seven times higher than reported by government agencies. Benzene can cause cancer and VOC’s include a wide variety of chemicals that contribute to ozone pollution.

And then there’s Texas. In April, a family was awarded 2.8 million in damages after a fracking company exposed them to harmful emissions and as a result, their 11-year-old daughter suffered from nosebleeds, nausea, vision problems and blood pressure issues. A month ago, the Texas Commission for Environmental Quality found dangerous levels of benzene and VOCs next to a residents home in Karnes County. And there have been investigations and projections of worsening air quality, drinking water contamination, and even calls for more studies.

The list of places goes on …Pennsylvania, North Dakota, Wisconsin, Utah. Here in California, there hasn’t been a comprehensive study that has examined the potential health impacts of fracking, but there has been some investigation into what chemicals have been used and how close they are to people.

Using data collected from the South Coast Air Quality Management District in Los Angeles, four non-profits compiled a report that highlights the type and amount of air toxins used in the Los Angeles basin from June 2013 to April 2014, next to homes, schools, and churches. They found that in the 477 instances of fracking, acidizing, and gravel packing, 44 different air toxins were used 5,068 times.

If you aren’t alarmed yet, then stay tuned for more research planned for release very soon. New York state will be releasing their health study on fracking at the end of this year or beginning of next and countless other institutions and agencies are taking on the issue.

Lastly, if you want to see what a few of the air toxins used in fracking, acidizing, and gravel packing will do to your body (if you are exposed to them), then just scroll to the top of the page. It doesn’t look very pretty.

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Faces of Fracking is a multimedia project telling the stories of people on the front lines of fracking in California.