It’s really a shame that fracking–the process of extracting natural gas from shale rock layers deep within the earth–is very detrimental to the environment since it’s such a fun word to say. But even if fracking does provide a useful energy alternative to the Middle East and offers cheap forms of natural gas, scientists are fairly certain that the environmental and health costs far outweigh the economic benefits.
Case in point, the impact of hydraulic fracturing on both climate change and local air pollution is similar to its impact on water, according to a study published in the journal Annual Review of Environment and Resources. And for people who reside in close proximity to fractured wells, they are very susceptible to health threats on account of the massive amount of volatile organic compounds and air toxins in the area.
But it seems we can now add yet another potentially hazardous health risk to Fracking.
CommonDreams reported that researchers in Pennsylvania recently discovered that the “prevalence of radon, a radioactive and carcinogenic gas, in people’s homes and commercial buildings that are nearer to fracking sites has increased dramatically” in the state ever since fracking first began a decade ago.
But the real the kick in the head, or should I say “kick in the lungs,” is the fact that radon (not a Marvel superhero) is being found in millions of homes across the country. In fact, the Environmental Health Perspectives journal compared the results of state-wide radon testing in Pennsylvania and found a major connection between unusually high levels of the deadly gas (radon) in mostly residential homes, as well as the proliferation of fracking in certain areas of the state.
Via the State Impact Pennsylvania, the state’s NPR affiliate:
Researchers from Johns Hopkins University analyzed radon readings taken in some 860,000 buildings, mostly homes, from 1989 to 2013 and found that those in rural and suburban areas where most shale gas wells are located had a concentration of the cancer-causing radioactive gas that was 39 percent higher overall than those in urban areas.
It also found that buildings using well water had a 21 percent higher concentration of radon than those served by municipal water systems.
And it showed radon levels in active gas-drilling counties rose significantly starting in 2004 when the state’s fracking boom began.
And finding even more alarming details was Phys.org:
Since radon is naturally occurring, in areas without adequate ventilation—like many basements—radon can accumulate to levels that substantially increase the risk of lung cancer.
The study’s first author is Joan A. Casey, a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Health & Society Scholar at the University of California-Berkeley and San Francisco, who earned her PhD at the Bloomberg School in 2014. She says it is unclear whether the excess radon in people’s homes is coming from radium getting into well water through the fracking process, being released into the air near the gas wells or whether natural gas from shale contains more radon than conventional gas and it enters homes through cooking stoves and furnaces. Another possibility, she says, is that in the past decade buildings have been more tightly sealed, potentially trapping radon that gets inside and leading to increased indoor radon levels. In the past, most radon has entered homes through foundation cracks and other openings into buildings.
“By drilling 7,000 holes in the ground, the fracking industry may have changed the geology and created new pathways for radon to rise to the surface,” Casey says. “Now there are a lot of potential ways that fracking may be distributing and spreading radon.”
It gets better. It seems exposure to radon is second-leading cause of lung cancer behind smoking in the United States, according to Environmental Health Perspectives study.
But so long as Congress allows corporations to dictate our policies and future, we might as well all start buying up respirators.