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How fracking threatens public health, more research needed

Brussels, 11 January 2012- The US Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has called for a study of the public health effects of fracturing of shale rock for natural gas, commonly known as fracking. (1)

The call is strongly supported by the Health and Environment Alliance (HEAL), which brings together more than 70 networks and groups working at the European level.

HEAL, which is coordinating advocacy efforts on fracking and health at the European level, considers that extracting shale gas represents a major new threat for public health in Europe. (2)

The call from the CDC in the US follows publication of a review of health impacts of gas drilling which found water contaminated with fracking chemicals and toxic metals posed the most significant risk to humans and animals.

Published by a Cornell University academic and a veterinarian, the study reviewed 24 cases in six US states where health problems had been linked to gas drilling. The paper “strongly implicates exposure to gas drilling … in serious health effects on humans, companion animals, livestock, horses and wildlife’’. (3)

Although any future study by CDC would apply to the US situation, it would be very valuable for Europe because this form of drilling and extraction has much longer history in North America. Similar broad-ranging studies are also needed for Europe on the potentially high threats to public health from drinking water pollution, agricultural water pollution, air pollution and other contamination.

In October 2011, HEAL held a seminar in Brussels entitled Shale Gas in the EU: “Health & Environment implications of Shale Fracturing for Natural Gas”, where participants agreed that fracking in Europe should not proceed until all the public health implications had been thoroughly examined, and a high level of protection to public health and environment could be assured.

At the meeting, Lisette van Vliet, HEAL’s Toxic Policy Advisor, presented an introduction to the very wide-ranging real and potential health impacts of fracking. (2) The seminar discussed that the risks to health range from the pollution of drinking water (fracking chemicals may be able to leak into aquifers), to air pollution from fracking machinery and transportation trucks, to accidents resulting from the earthquakes caused by shale gas and oil drilling.

Ms van Vliet says: “We support the call from the CDC in the US for a study of the public health effects of fracking, particularly the threats to water and to food via water. The European Commission is currently investigating potential environment and health impacts and we hope these studies will take into account findings from the US despite the differences operating and geological conditions."

“We also hope the EU studies will properly assess the health and environmental impacts of fracking in comparison with those that would be associated with renewable energy sources. Carbon and methane emissions from fracking would seriously comprise efforts to reduce emissions associated with climate change.”

HEAL wants the results of EU studies on fracking to be open for full consultation once they become available. “An informed debate on the merits of fracking is a must. Until then, there should be no further fracking in Europe – neither exploration nor planning for exploitation. We need to understand the full public health and environmental impacts of fracking, before deciding on whether this form of drilling should be conducted in Europe."

HEAL is working closely with Sandra Steingraber, an international environmental health scientist who is campaigning for a moratorium on fracking in New York state. In a moving speech, Ms Steingraber has addressed the risks to drinking water from fracking. (4)

Last year, 60 US scientists with expertise in water treatment systems signed a letter expressing concern about chemicals and other contaminants used in hydraulic fracturing ending up in the water supply. Their fear is that municipal drinking water filtration systems are not designed to adequately remove such toxins. (5) The US-based Endocrine Disruptor Exchange, TEDX says that fracking fluid may contain include 300 chemicals out of which 40% are endocrine disruptors (disturb the hormone system) and a third are suspected carcinogens. Over 60% can harm the brain and nervous system. (6)

The spokesperson for one of HEAL’s member organisations in France, Francois Veillerette of Generations Futures has written a book about fracking in Europe entitled, "Le vrai scandale des Gaz de Schiste" (The Real Scandal of Shale Gas). (7)

Further information or to arrange an interview with Lisette van Vliet, Ph.D., Toxics Policy Advisor, HEAL (email: lisette@env-health.org) please contact Diana Smith, Press officer, Health and Environment Alliance, Diana@env-health.org +33 633 04 2943 (mobile)

Notes for journalists

1. CDC scientist proposes wide testing on gas drilling safety to humans, animals, environment, Washington Post, 4 January 2012 http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/environment/cdc-scientist-proposes-wide-testing-on-gas-drilling-safety-to-humans-animals-environment/2012/01/04/gIQAanL4aP_story.html

2. For information on fracking and health, see Health and Environmental Alliance website at http://www.env-health.org/spip.php?article1251 Scroll down the page for presentations by Lisette van Vliet, HEAL and from Mihai Tomescu, Socio-Economic Analyst at DG Environment, European Commission.

3. Study links fracking to health, 10 January 2012, http://www.smh.com.au/environment/water-issues/study-links-fracking-to-health-risks-20120109-1prvu.html#ixzz1j3dEHtEw Original article, Impacts of gas drilling on human and animal health, http://barnettshalehell.wordpress.com/

4. Sandra Steingraber addresses hydraulic fracturing and the risks it poses to drinking water quality and public health in New York (utube) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AhwQHHRiT3U&feature=related

5. Letter from US scientists to New York State Governor Andrew M. Cuomo available at http://www.psehealthyenergy.org/data/Sign_on_letter_Final.pdf

6. TEDX website, http://www.endocrinedisruption.com/home.php

7. Marine Jobert and Francois Veillerette, "Le vrai scandale des gaz de schiste", full details on website at http://www.gaz-de-schiste.frReview in English at http://www.env-health.org/spip.php?article1318&var_mode=calcul

Originally posted on 11 January 2012

About HEAL

The Health and Environment Alliance (HEAL) is a leading European not-for-profit organisation addressing how the environment affects health in the European Union (EU). We demonstrate how policy changes can help protect health and enhance people’s quality of life. Read more »

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HEAL has over 70 member organisations, representing health professionals, not-for-profit health insurers, doctors, nurses, cancer and asthma groups, citizens, women’s groups, youth groups, environmental NGOs, scientists and public health institutes. Members include international and Europe-wide organisations, as well as national and local groups. Read more »

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