Residents living in the shadow of fracking rigs say they've suffered from headaches, nosebleeds and other health effects since drilling began in their communities. Meanwhile, state agencies refuse to release the results of air and water pollution tests....
Pennsylvania lawmakers recently stripped $2 million in funding that had been earmarked for researching and tracking drilling-related health problems from landmark oil and gas legislation. The state's environmental protection agency recently has come under fire from residents and a state lawmaker who say the agency is hiding air quality monitoring data from the public and failing to provide complete lab results to residents who fear that fracking has contaminated their drinking water.
Fracking Air Pollution Linked to Health Problems
A recent, in-depth survey by the environmental group Earthworks found that contaminants are present in the communities near fracking operations, and many residents have developed health problems they did not have before. The most commonly reported symptoms include tremors, dizziness and irritation of the eyes, ears, nose and mouth. These symptoms correlate to chemicals used in fracking, like benzene and volatile organic compounds, and suggest a "strong possibility" that oil and gas drilling is causing health problems, according the report.
Residents living closer to drilling operations reported health symptoms at higher rates. The survey found that 56 percent of children living within 1,500 feet of facilities reported nosebleeds. On average, children surveyed reported an average of 19 health symptoms that are not normally found in healthy kids.
In addition, 80 percent of respondents said they "sometimes" or "frequently" smelled bad odors.
"I strongly object to being forced to breathe toxic fumes and other unhealthy conditions, and to my family facing the possibility of one day becoming refugees from our own home," said Lisak, who participated in the survey.
Earthworks contends the findings raise serious questions about statements made by the fracking industry and its supporters. The industry is known for dismissing health impact claims as "personal anecdotes," and people living near drilling operations often are told that their health problems are likely due to other factors like lifestyle choices and family disease history, according to the report.
Regulators Accused of Hiding Test Results From the Public
On May 25, the Cornerstone Care community clinic in Pennsylvania's Washington County was temporarily shut down after being evacuated three times. Gusts of fumes had invaded the clinic for weeks, filling the building with nauseating odors and making patients and health care workers sick. The clinic remained closed until early July.
The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) investigated the odors at the clinic and determined that the fumes could not be linked to oil and gas drilling; but the agency has refused to hand over 400 pages of raw testing and quality control data to a concerned lawmaker.
State Rep. Jesse White, a Washington County Democrat, requested the records to share with independent scientists and researchers after the clinic shut down, but the state DEP denied his request.
White then filed a Right to Know request under Pennsylvania's sunshine law, but the agency said it was not required to hand over the records because they were part of a "non-criminal" investigation. White is quick to point out that, despite the non-criminal exemption, the agency could legally release the records if it chose to do so Pennsylvania DEP spokesperson Kevin Sunday told Truthout the agency refused to hand over the data to maintain the "confidentiality" of the air monitoring investigation, but did not explain why such data must be kept from public view.
"To date, the DEP has still refused to release the 400 pages of raw data, which is troubling for a variety of reasons," White wrote in a December 6 letter to DEP Secretary Michael Krancer. "Unless and until you release this data, I will continue to have serious concerns about DEP's commitment to transparency and openness in its operations."
White also wants to know why the DEP has withheld certain sets of test results from residents who believe their drinking water is contaminated by fracking.
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