Saturday, December 17, 2016

EPA Backs Off On Claim That Fracked Water Has No Adverse Effects

It is deeply disturbing to discover the content and quantity of toxic chemicals, like benzene and lead, being injected into the ground without the knowledge of communities whose health would be affected."
 - Sen. Diana DeGette,  commenting on 2010 fracking report

After six years and $29 million spent, the EPA - facing a Trumpist takeover- has admitted there is no way to say for sure that fracking poses no risk to drinking water. A new report issued last Thursday said that fracked water is a risk to drinking water "in some circumstances"  but a lack of definitive information precluded a definitive statement on how severe the risk is.

The exact wording of the report is:

"Because of the significant data gaps and uncertainties in the available data, it was not possible to fully characterize the severity of impacts nor was it possible to calculate or estimate the national frequency of impacts on drinking water resources".

This is at least an improvement on its earlier position in a misguided draft from last year, saying that "fracking had not caused widespread, systemic harm to drinking water in the United States".

But this was always in contradiction to an inquiry by the House Energy and Commerce Committee in 2010-11, which report found that fourteen of the nation's most active hydraulic fracturing companies used 866 million gallons of chemical fracturing products, and more than 650 of the chemicals named in the report were known carcinogens, supposedly regulated under the Safe Drinking Water Act. (Which was rendered toothless for fracking by lobbyists) Among the most toxic of the chemicals used (11.4 million gallons in all) were: benzene, toluene, xylene and ethylbenzene.

Among the toxic fracking chemicals and their adverse effects uncovered by the inquiry:

-Benzene: a powerful bone-marrow poison (aplastic anemia) associated with leukemia, breast and uterine cancer

- Styrene, which may cause eye and mucous membrane irritation, neurotoxic effects in the central and peripheral nervous systems.

- Toluene, which may cause muscular incoordination, tremors, hearing loss, dizziness, vertigo, emotional instability and delusions, liver and kidney damage, and anemia.

- Xylene, with cancer-causing (mainly in the kidneys, liver) and neurotoxic effects, as well as reproductive abnormalities.

- Methylene chloride, which may cause cancer, liver and kidney damage, central nervous system disorders and COPD

Then there was the 2014 study, from Yale University and published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives, surveyed 492 people living in 180 randomly selected households in southwestern Pennsylvania, an area containing more than 600 active natural gas wells. A full 39 percent of those living less than a kilometer (0.6 miles) away from a well, researchers found, said they’d experienced upper respiratory symptoms, including coughing, itchy eyes and nosebleeds, compared to 18 percent living 2 kilometers away or more. And 13 percent of those living close to wells reported skin conditions like persistent rashes and unexplained hair loss, compared to just 3 percent of the others.

In Pennsylvania, where drilling has exploded in the past eight years, whistle-blowers  accused the state Department of Health of deliberately ignoring health complaints. Critics added that the state has yet to conduct even one study on fracking’s potential health risks.  Clearly, the state has been in the paws of the fracking industry.

In other words, there's no issue on the harm, and the only responsible reaction has to be invoking the precautionary principle.  That is,  it is the frackers' job to prove their chemicals are harmless, not the job of environmentalist to prove they're harmful.

Given the preceding, it was no surprise that in the wake of the EPA reversal industry groups and their PR affiliates went bonkers. A number of these groups claimed that the Obama administration had yielded to political pressure on its way out the door.   But this is lame. More probably, the Obama administration recognized that with the revival of Rick Perry as head of DOE, in conjunction with the Trumpista EPA picks , the result could be destruction of the key  files showing the adverse effects - so decided to expose them now before the takeover - given the "barbarians" are at the gate.

This is especially important now given the Trumpistas also plan to kick millions off Obamacare. So when they do get seriously ill - including cancers - from fracked water, they will have no way to recover.  At least now they will know one reason for those cancers if they are in proximity to fracking wells.

One oil industry exec called the EPA report "absurd reversal "  and insisted it "changed a science-based conclusion to one based on political ambiguity". 

Erik Melito, a lobbyist for the American Petroleum Institute, quoted in The Denver Post, claimed:

"The agency has walked away from nearly a thousand sources of information from technical reports and peer-reviewed scientific reports demonstrating that hydraulic fracturing does not lead to widespread, systemic impacts to drinking water resources."

Of course, this is hogwash and what you'd expect from an oil industry PR hack. Anyone likely to believe this asshole or his cohort really needs to get hold of Naomi Oreskes' work 'Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming'  - on the PR Departments that serve the  frackers and their lot.  All of which are reminiscent of the vermin PR meisters exposed in Toxic Sludge is Good for You, by Sheldon Rampton and John Stauber, based on the 1990s tactic of toxic industries to try to soft sell the use of their sludge in fertilizers. .

Oreskes explained that the job of corporate PR depts. is not to necessarily show they're right, but merely to spur and stir phony debate. Once the debate is consolidated, it becomes a matter of endless back and forth, "he said, she said" etc, and the ruse succeeds by staving off regulation because, hey, "the issue isn't settled". But in reality it is, as much as the fact that 6 million Jews perished in a holocaust.

But one thing we know is that PR must bow to physical reality. That includes the videos of fracked water set on fire,  as it comes out of water taps  e.g.
GaslandScene from the Josh Fox documentary ‘Gasland’ in which a homeowner lights his tap water.

Never mind the squeals of the stuck pig fossil fuelers, John Noel of Clean Water Action, puts it in perspective:

"We are glad the EPA resisted the oil and gas industry spin and delivered the facts".

As for Melito and his ilk, he's been exposed after he said, quoted in the Post:

"We look forward to working with the new administration to instill fact-based science into the public policy process."

Translation: "We look forward to Trump's EPA appointees destroying all the data and files for the fact-based science so we can have carte blanche in wasting the water supplies of the nation with our proven, toxic shit."

Sadly, the deluded Trump voters who make light of Rick Perry's DOE appointment, as well as Scott Pruitt's to the EPA, appear unaware of how all these impact the well being of their kids and grand kids. These and millions more will have to live in the wasteland world the Trumpistas leave us. For those of us getting on in years it makes little difference as we already lived our lives, and one more condition - say on top of existing cancers - won't make a lot of difference.  But for the youngest citizens to now be faced with a host of diseases - many from exposure to fracked water- is something that ought to outrage any normal, sane mind.  Especially as their health care will now be dismantled as well, preventing them from coping with what's coming.

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