Monday, September 19, 2011

Scientists say water systems probably can't filter fracking chemicals; pattern of illness found

A group of scientists has determined that municipal water systems cannot filter chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing of natural-gas wells, or "fracking." In a letter to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, the scientists said "It will be practically impossible" for drinking-water systems to protect against the chemicals, which include benzene, toxic metals, radioactive materials and surfactants and organic biocides.

Brian Nearing of the Albany Times Union reports that 59 experts from 18 states and seven other countries signed the letter. The state has proposed to ban fracking near watersheds that provide drinking water to New York City and Syracuse, but other watersheds would not have such protection. Cornell University ecology professor and letter signer Robert Howarth told Nearing that if the risk for watersheds providing water to New York City was too high, so was the risk for any watershed in the state. The NYC watershed, in the Catskill Mountains, is especially pristine.

In the wake of the letter's release, Abraham Lustgarten and Nicholas Kusnetz of ProPublica completed a review of government environmental reports, private lawsuits and interviews with many residents, physicians and toxicologists in four big gas-drilling states and found that cases of respiratory infections, headaches, neurological impairment, nausea and skin rashes, all believed to be caused by some aspect of fracking, have been occuring for the last decade in Colorado and Wyoming. Similar cases are just beginning to pop up in Pennsylvania, where drilling of the Marcellus Shale has recently increased. However, Lustgarten and Kusnetz write that the extent and cause of the problems is unknown, as neither states nor the federal government have tracked reports of such illnesses or investigated how drilling can affect human health. They also looked at Texas. (Read more)

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