Fracking: New Study Says It Not Only Pollutes Groundwater, But Poisons Air As Well

A new study says that the mining technique known as fracking, (aka frack sand mining or hydraulic fracturing) isn't only a threat to drinkable groundwater supplies, but also might just make the air we breathe toxic.

Last December, New York State decided to ban fracking within its borders based on a public health review that pointed out fracking's many health risks. These include "air impacts that could affect respiratory health due to increased levels of particulate matter, diesel exhaust, or volatile organic chemicals."

In September, an air monitoring study in New York, Arkansas, Colorado, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wyoming found high levels of toxic pollutants such as the banned carcinogens benzene and formaldehyde in communities near drilling sites. About 40 percent of the samples were above pollution concentrations considered unsafe by the federal government.

A new study entitled Air Concentrations of Volatile Compounds Near Oil and Gas Production: A Community-Based Exploratory Study and published in the journal, Environmental Health made it clear that it's not safe to breathe the air around frack sand mining operations. The report was produced by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).

The study also pointed out the analysis of air samples gathered in fracking sites in these states found those health risks could be considerable. It discovered many toxic chemicals in the air can cause at least five serious types of health problems: respiratory problems, cancer, birth defects, blood disorders and nervous system problems.

In areas of Colorado with high concentrations of oil and gas activity, the researchers behind the study discovered that mothers living near many oil and gas wells were 30 percent more likely to have babies with heart defects.

The study noted benzene and formaldehyde were in amounts hundreds of times higher than what is considered safe in some cases. It also found levels of eight volatile chemicals (including benzene, formaldehyde and hydrogen sulfate) exceeded federal guidelines for health-based risk.

The study leader author, David Carpenter, is the director of the Institute of Health and the Environment at New York State University at Albany.

"The citizens in these communities were experiencing health problems that they believe are linked to the oil and gas production near their homes. Chemical exposure is insidious and cumulative, and so it may take years to really understand the magnitude of impacts on people's health from oil and gas development."
Unfortunately, the study says that over one-quarter of Americans live within a mile of an oil or gas well.

NRDC senior scientist Miriam Rotkin-Ellman reiterated the conclusions of the study.

"The health risks from fracking are not limited to what's in our drinking water - oil and gas operations are also poisoning the air we breathe."
The oil and gas industry disputes these claims. Their response? "Natural gas delivers local air and health benefits."

What do you think? Do you live near a fracking site? Do you worry about water or air pollution?

[Image via WisconsinWatch]