Empowering Communities, Advocating Solutions


Source: The Island Now

Upstate hydrofracking bad for Long Island


Posted: December 18, 2011
Originally Published: December 15, 2011

So what if New York State permits hydrofracking to extract the natural gas in the state's southern tier. So what if environmentalists are right, and the blighted landscape ruins its tourism industry, contaminates the farms and the crisscrossing of pipes makes the land useless for future development upstate? Why should Long Islanders care?

In the first place, the rules change that New York State is contemplating in order to unleash a gold rush for the natural gas extraction companies will affect the entire state - the Marcellus Shale, which is in the southern tier, is only one area they are eyeing; they are also eyeing the Utica shale which spans most of New York State.

But most urgently for Long Island, where breast cancer rates are disproportionately high, is the risk to contamination of our water and food supplies from carcinogenic chemicals that are injected into the ground during the extraction, and the radon gas, a radioactive substance, that is released along with natural gas in the shale.

Natural gas may be less polluting than oil or coal, but is still a fossil fuel, with a finite supply that is harder and harder to extract. Oil is already too expensive to extract; in fact, the biggest oil companies - Exxon-Mobil, BP, Chevron - now faced with limits on the oil they can get at economically, are all acquiring natural gas extractors.

This means that economically - if not environmentally - we need to make the transition to clean renewables at some point. That might as well be now, in order to cement our energy independence, which is vital for natural security, as well as save the longer-term costs to society of damage to health and the environment, which at this point have not been factored into the equation.

But on the issue most immediately at hand, the health risks of unleashing wholesale natural gas extraction using this controversial horizontal hydraulic fracturing method, Laura Weinberg, president of the Great Neck Breast Cancer Coalition, notes that the process, if allowed, would set back years of progress the state has made in controlling carcinogenic chemical contamination in our everyday lives.

"As Gov. Cuomo considers whether or not to allow fracking in New York State after Jan. 11, the entire cancer community in our state is in an uproar over its possible implementation," Weinberg said. "Over 250 physicians in New York State have sent a letter to Governor Cuomo urging him to not allow fracking as public health is at stake."

As an advocate in the breast cancer movement for over 17 years, and the president of the Great Neck Breast Cancer Coalition and a board member of the New York State Breast Cancer Network for over a decade, Weinberg has worked with the New York State Breast Cancer Network consisting of more than 20 grassroots breast cancer organizations in communities stretching from Buffalo to Long Island, collectively reaching over 100,000 New Yorkers.

"We work each and every day with people who are diagnosed with cancer and see the devastation it brings to them and to their families," she says. "We have fought hard for decades to lower the risk of cancer by demonstrating the link between cancer and environmental exposures.

"Working with our New York State legislators and the governor's office, the New York State Breast Cancer Network was instrumental in the passage and adoption of laws and policies that reduce New Yorkers' exposure to carcinogens. We were instrumental in banning BPA in children's products and we worked with state government agencies on The New York State Green Procurement Executive Order, which includes a comprehensive list of 85 toxic chemicals for New York State to consider when purchasing products and services. This five year effort has put every New Yorker at lower risk of many cancers and other chronic diseases.

"The hydrofracking process uses a significant number of chemicals from that list that are known or suspected carcinogens such as benzene, formaldehyde and naphthalene. If hydrofracking is approved, our collective past efforts to protect public health in New York State is washed away as residents will be exposed to the very same carcinogens that the Green Procurement Executive Order intended to minimize - this time from fracking fluids. Fracking is a direct assault on the cancer community, as well as on the public health of New York State.

"According to the National Cancer Institute, one in three women and one in two men will be diagnosed with cancer in their lifetime. What legacy are we leaving to our children if we allow hydrofracking chemicals into their environment that have been shown to increase the risk of cancer? " Weinberg posed.

One of the grave concerns that opponents to hydrofracking in New York State have is the secrecy with which the industry guards what chemicals are injected into the ground.

At the public hearing held November 30, in New York City, the last before state Department of Environmental Conservation will issue its decision, speaker after speaker asserted that the industry has provided no plan to mitigate against a calamity, or handle waste or deal with the risk of radon, a radioactive material released as a by-product in the process.

Just down the street from where a rally was underway after the hearing, we encountered Paul Hartman, the government affairs representative for Chesapeake Energy, one of the companies hoping to get permits. Asked about the chemicals that are used in the process, Hartman declined to list any of the specific chemicals that are used in the process. But he said there is a voluntary registry where the companies can list the chemicals. (Note the word "voluntary.")

But Weinberg cited specifics by Dr. Sandra Steingraber: "Fracking fluids contain carcinogens and cancer-promoting chemicals: More than 25 percent of the chemicals used in natural gas operations have been demonstrated to cause cancer or mutations (Colborn, Kwiatkowski, Schultz, & Bachran, 2011).

Between 2005 and 2009, according to the Committee on Energy and Commerce, hydraulic fracturing companies used 95 products containing 13 different known and suspected carcinogens. These include naphthalene, benzene, and acrylamide (Committee Staff for Waxman, 2011). Thirty-seven percent of chemicals in fracking fluids have been identified as endocrine-disruptors. By definition, these substances have the power, at vanishingly low concentrations, to alter hormonal signaling pathways within the body. Many can place cells on the pathway to tumor formation.

Exposure to endocrine-disrupting chemicals has been implicated in cancers of the breast, prostate, pituitary, testicle, and ovary (Birnbaum & Fenton, 2003; Soto & Sonnenschein, 2010). These exposures may alter gene expression in pregnancy and early life (Colborn, et al., 2011)."

Weinberg added, "Moreover, many of us are wondering where the state plans to unload contaminated waste from daily, ongoing fracking activities?"

Regarding this concern, The Citizen's Campaign for the Environment of Long Island issued a statement under a heading "No plans for disposal of hazardous fracking wastes."

"There are no wastewater treatment plants in New York State designed to treat wastewaters from high-volume fracking operations. The draft review and proposed regulations are unacceptably vague with regard to what will become of the billions of gallons of toxic waste that will be produced in New York State once these operations are commenced."

The Great Neck Breast Cancer Coalition and other grass roots groups have been working for years to call attention to the dangerous chemicals in our midst, often with benign names or purposes, and some which have even been used in medical treatments. The Great Neck Breast Cancer Coalition was instrumental in getting the Town of North Hempstead to collect pharmaceutical waste rather than allow unused pills (including birth control pills, anti-depression medicines and narcotics) from going into landfills and finding their way into water habitats of fish.

Since 2005, the Great Neck Breast Cancer Coalition has sponsored high school students to spend a summer doing research in important labs working to discern the environmental links to cancer - to both assist in producing the research into the environmental connections to cancer, and to engender awareness in these young researchers who not surprisingly become crusaders in their communities.

On Dec. 6 at the US Merchant Marine Academy, this year's students - four teams sponsored by Great Neck Breast Cancer Coalition and the Huntington Breast Cancer Action Coalition - presented the results of their research . For most, this was their first exposure to science research and to this particular topic, and you could readily appreciate how their work changed their outlook.

I learned at their presentations, how seemingly innocuous materials can harbor potentially carcinogenic chemicals. For example, who would have imagined that the chemical used in sales receipts, an endoctrine-disrupting compound known as BPA, which is also used in plastics, can trigger breast cancer. BPA is still used in sales receipts, as well as in the lining of aluminum cans. Vita Jaspan of Great Neck South and Melissa Wing of Northport High School, worked at the Soto/Sonnenschein Laboratory at Tufts University School of Medicine helped show that even the smallest concentrations of this chemical increased the risk of mammary glad tumors in mice and rats.

Who would have imagined that the optical brighteners in laundry detergents (which actually dos its magic through an illusion, not by actually making things cleaner), have been linked with endocrine disruption causing various cancers. One of the chemicals, Diethylstilbestyrol (DES, a stilbene estrogen), was once FDA-approved for treating menopause and preventing miscarriages in women, but was eventually banned once its carcinogenic properties and tendency to increase the risk of breast cancer were established, as Megan Hansen and Catherine Wang reported from their research at Silent Spring Institute, Newton. The government does not require disclosure of the use of optical brighteners in laundry detergent, so you are on your own to research which ones do not have it (Seventh Generation is one product).

Just a day after I heard these presentations, on December 7, the New York Times reported "Scientific Panel Finds Few Clear Environmental Links to Breast Cancer." The headline seemed to undermine the essence of the story: that there are known chemical and radiological links, just that there are few ones that are clear links. The article also noted, that the Institute of Medicine "said much more research was needed on the effects of various environmental exposures at different stages of life, because the vulnerability of breast tissue may vary during childhood, adolescence, adulthood, before and after pregnancy and even in the womb."

Weinberg responded to the New York Times article, saying, "The Great Neck Breast Cancer Coalition has been advocating for research and education on environmental links to breast cancer for over a decade. We are encouraged that an institute of such high stature is validating the need for continuing research to better understand the role of chemicals present in everyday products-from foods to cleaning products and cosmetics - in breast cancer risk. The IOM's first review of environmental links to breast cancer reveals known risks of breast cancer, such as avoiding unnecessary medical radiation, forgoing hormone treatments for menopause that combine estrogen and progestin, limiting alcohol intake and minimizing weight gain. We are pleased to see that the institute is recommending further research for a myriad of chemical exposures.... For over 10 years Great Neck Breast Cancer Coalition has advocated for risk reduction by seeking safer alternatives to BPA and other toxic compounds present in everyday products. This report strengthens our resolve to get that message out."

Then, on December 8, this was the headline in the New York Times: "EPA Links Tainted Water in Wyoming to Hydraulic Fracturing for Natural Gas" That article reported, "Chemicals used to hydraulically fracture rocks in drilling for natural gas in a remote valley in central Wyoming are the likely cause of contaminated local water supplies, federal regulators said Thursday."

Here's the problem: in Pennsylvania, as was readily admitted by Chesapeake Energy's government affairs guy, the regulations were not as stringent as New York State is proposing. The reason could be that those regulations reflected what was known and anticipated at the time.

What will be New Yorkers fate in 15 or 20 years time? Will we find a new Love Canal. Will chemicals used in the process be discovered to provide the triggers to unleash cancers? If the gas extraction companies comply with the law as written, the likelihood is they will have no liability for what environmental and health havoc that results from their extraction methods. But liability isn't really the issue, is it? It is the suffering and premature death of people who contract cancers.

As the New York Times reported, about 230,000 new cases of breast cancer, and about 40,000 deaths from the disease, are expected this year in the United States. In the next 10 years, an estimated 24 of every 1,000 white women aged 50, or 2.4 percent, will be found to have breast cancer, compared to 2.2 percent of black women, 2 percent of Asian women and 1.7 percent of Hispanic women.

Chemicals that were used in medical treatments a generation ago are discovered to trigger cancers later.

It stands to reason that hydrofracking is a dangerous, and even unnecessary process with many dangers that have already become known, and a great many unknowns.

But think of this: each of these thousands of wells that the extraction industry is planning to dig cost $5 million apiece.

Imagine if that money were invested in clean, renewable energy of which New York State has an abundance: wind, solar, geothermal, hydroelectric.

Did you know that the Empire State Building will be getting its electricity from wind-power supplied by Green Mountain Energy? New York City and Westchester now have a choice program with Con Ed so that residential and commercial users can purchase alternative energy. LIPA also has an energy choice program. That means that we can ask to purchase electricity generated through wind power from another provider. Meanwhile, LIPA is moving into clean, renewables, with its new solar array at Brookhaven, and is still exploring wind power off of the south shore.

"If fracking in New York State concerns you, we urge you to submit comments to the Department of Conservation and letters to Gov. Cuomo's office by Jan. 11. Collectively, we can make a difference!" Weinberg stated.

To submit comments online, go to the DEC website: www.dec.ny.gov/energy/76838.html

You can also send a letter to:

The Honorable Andrew M. Cuomo

Governor of New York State

New York State Capitol Building

Albany, NY 12224

Facebook Campaign: A Million Fracking Letters