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Fracking Is Also Poisoning the Air

Quick refresher: hydraulic ffracking is the practice of injecting water at extremely high pressure miles deep underground to release natural gas for harvesting and selling. To you, perhaps. It's currently banned in many localities and even whole...
March 19, 2012, 6:15am

Quick refresher: hydraulic fracking is the practice of injecting water at extremely high pressure miles deep underground to release natural gas for harvesting and selling. To you, perhaps. It’s currently banned in many localities and even whole countries (France, Bulgaria), pending more information on its environmental and health effects. Well, here’s more new information: air emissions near fracking sites likely have impacts on both short-term and chronic health.

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“Our data show that it is important to include air pollution in the national dialogue on natural gas development that has focused largely on water exposures to hydraulic fracturing,” says Lisa McKenzie, Ph.D., MPH, lead author of a forthcoming study in Science of the Total Environment and a research associate at the Colorado School of Public Health, in a press release.

The study looked at results from three years of air monitoring, looking for potentially toxic petroleum hydrocarbons near the wells including benzene, ethylbenzene, toluene and xylene. Benzene in particular is a known carcinogen, while a bunch of other chemicals were detected as well, with less known about their toxicity.

“Our results show that the non-cancer health impacts from air emissions due to natural gas development is greater for residents living closer to wells,” the report says. “The greatest health impact corresponds to the relatively short-term, but high emission, well completion period.” Thank trimethylbenzenes, aliaphatic hydrocarbons, and xylenes for that, all of which have both neurological and respiratory effects. Look for eye irritation, sore throat, headaches, and difficulty breathing.

Give yourself ten years or so and look for cancer. “Benzene is the major contributor to lifetime excess cancer risk from both [near to and from well] scenarios,” the report states. And don’t forget to thank fracking-loving President Rick Santorum when the results come back positive.

The situation is actually likely to be worse. The data doesn’t include chemicals released during the well-development process. “If there had been [data], then it is entirely possible the risks would have been underestimated.” Can we just stop doing this already?

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Reach this writer at michaelb@motherboard.tv, @everydayelk.