Fracking Hurting Health Right Now
This morning, riding my bike down Christian Street, across the South Street Bridge and into West Philadelphia after an early morning meeting, I inhaled far more dirty exhaust than I wanted to. A city bus belched directly into my lungs and I held my breath as I passed the cloud.
It suddenly occurred to me that for me, as an asthmatic and a bike rider, as a city dweller, it would seem "as if" it's a GREAT thing for city buses to switch to natural gas. But the only new sources of natural gas are those that can only be accessed by deep drilling into hard shale, called "fracking."
If I didn't personally know people being hurt by fracking right now up in Susquehanna County and Bradford County, in Washington and Greene Counties in southwestern PA, and elsewhere in the state and country Â- I could really imagine the seductive appeal. How much more appealing it must seem to those who have not been listening to hydrologists, biochemists and climate scientists make the case for a moratorium on fracking. I've been listening to those scientists, and I am completely persuaded that it's urgent for us to halt fracking in Pennsylvania based on the cumulative impacts to our ecosystem and based on threats to public health for our own and future generations. But it's not just scientists I've been listening to. It's real people, ordinary people in the Susquehanna River watershed and the Ohio River watershed where high-volume horizontal hydraulic fracturing is already underway, who have had the greatest impact on me.
Carl and Judy Stiles of Sugar Run, in Bradford County, were told by a toxicologist to get out of their home last November after they'd been suffering severe abdominal pain, muscle tremors, dizziness, racing heart and other cardiac symptoms for months. They live not far from where the Susquehanna River began bubbling with gas after Chesapeake Energy began drilling and fracking nearby. The Stiles abandoned their home last November, but they continue to have symptoms. Arsenic and barium were confirmed in their blood tests at high levels; and radium 226 was also confirmed in their water. They have been told by one doctor to expect to get leukemia within two years. The last time I spoke with them, a few weeks ago, their daughter had been hospitalized with mysterious seizures.
As disturbing as all this is, one fact stood out as extraordinarily disturbing to me. Chesapeake Energy technicians came to the Stiles' home last fall to take air samples from their shower, they told me. Long after the Stiles and their daughter stopped drinking their water, they had continued to take showers in their home with water they believe was contaminated by Chesapeake's gas drilling and fracking operations nearby (vertical drilling happens before the fracking stage, and many contaminants including methane, arsenic, barium, and radioactive materials can be disturbed and released into the environment from the drilling stage before fracking even begins). Once their daughter almost passed out in the shower. But Chesapeake, the drilling company, has never told the Stiles what those air samples revealed about the fumes in the shower. So the Stiles, even while they urgently seek medical care, cannot tell doctors and toxicologists what they were exposed to.
Unfortunately it's not just one company or one county being impacted. In Southwestern Pennsylvania, a family in which two members have experienced severe abdominal pain, sore throats, mouth ulcers and other symptoms for over a year after gas fracking operations began nearby, has also been forced to move out of their home. Their doctor told them the air contamination from gas drilling is even worse than the water contamination. The son has been so sick he's had to miss the better part of a year of school. In their case, several animals have died and arsenic levels in their blood have spiked. It may be that arsine gas, which travels through the air as fumes emitted by water impacted by gas drilling, can cause some of the intense symptoms being experienced by this and other families. But they are not getting any help from either the gas drilling company or the state; in fact, their family has been split apart Â- made homeless Â- as the mother struggles to keep her job while taking care of her sick children.
The health impacts from gas drilling are so new, and the chemicals and other contaminants brought up by the drilling and fracking, compressor stations and condensate tanks, pipelines and frack pits, are so little understood, that the current wave of families whose health is being severely impacted by fracking in Pennsylvania are literally guinea pigs for a process being sold to the public as "clean." Nothing could be farther from the truth. High-volume horizontal hydraulic fracturing for methane gas (fracking for short) is dirty, destructive and high-impact from start to finish. The EPA recently advised the families in Bradford County who were impacted by the Chesapeake Energy blowout there last April, that they must not even wash their dishes in their tap water, which now has multiple contaminants including, in at least one case, radioactive materials.
Turned on your tap recently and found it safe to wash your hands, take a shower, cook, wash dishes and even drink that water? Taken some deep breaths inside your home and felt safe doing so? Imagine what these impacted families who are being hurt right now are going through, and please take steps, if you are able, to educate yourself and to stand up to protect them Â- protecting Philly while you're at it! The Delaware River Basin Commission plans to issue final regulations to enable fracking in our watershed as early as this September, so all these impacts may soon show up directly upstream from Philadelphia. To protect our neighbors is to protect ourselves.
To learn more, please go to protectingourwaters.com and to demonstrate publicly, please attend the Shale Gas Outrage demonstration on September 7th in Philadelphia to protect air, water, earth and human health from dirty gas drilling. More information at shalegasoutrage.org