Sandra Steingraber, Ph.D. is an ecologist, author, cancer survivor and internationally recognized authority on the environment links to cancer and human health. Her book, Living Downstream: An Ecologist’s Personal Investigation of Cancer and the Environment presents cancer as a human rights issue. In August of 2012, she made news for her Pledge to Resist Fracking speech and op-ed given during a Don't Frack New York rally in Albany, NY. She is now aiding citizens of Colorado in their fight to stop fracking.
Earlier this year Governor John Hickenlooper appeared in an advertisement supporting the Colorado Oil and Gas Association and the dangerous technology of hydraulic fracturing (fracking). Since then the Governor has repeatedly made claims that fracking can be done safely. This conclusion is at odds with the findings of the scientific community.
On October 23rd scientific data and human rights resolve will arrive outside of Governor Hickenlooper's office in Denver. With the support of musicians like Jakob Dylan and Rami Jafee of the Wallfowers and actresses Daryl Hannah and Mariel Hemmingway, I will be presenting a case for why fracking cannot be made safe and, if we are to protect the health of our children, must be banned. The event takes place at Civic Center Park on Capitol Hill from 3-7 and will highlight local groups—including the mother activists of Erie Rising and The Mother’s Project—while featuring a mix of music, interviews and speeches.
Even if fracking did not cause groundwater contamination—and it does—the practice would still be unacceptably dangerous. According to the Colorado Oil and Gas Association, more than 5,000 toxic spills have been reported on fracking sites in Colorado alone. Moreover, unburned methane is a potent heat-trapping gas, 20 times more potent than CO2. Because the drilling and gas-delivery infrastructure is inherently leaky, fracking contributes significantly to climate change. Far from clean, fracked gas is a greenhouse pollutant on par with coal, and blasting it out of the bedrocks fills the air with diesel exhaust, volatile organic compounds, and ground-level ozone. In a word: smog. The ozone levels in Erie, Colorado now rival that of downtown Los Angeles, with fracking likely a lead contributor.
This kind of air pollution is lethal. Among pregnant women and children, it is demonstrably linked to preterm birth and childhood asthma. In adults, lung cancer, bladder cancer, heart attack, stroke risk, and cognitive decline. Of particular concern is benzene, which is released into the air during the fracking process and which is linked to leukemia and birth defects. A study conducted by the Colorado School of Public Health found that residents of Garfield County living within a half-mile radius of a drilling site have a 66% greater risk of developing cancer because of their exposure to airborne benzene. These exposures represent contamination without consent. Our message to Governor Hickenlooper: the children of Colorado should not be asked to assume needless and frightening risks to their health as the price for our nation's continuing dependency on fossil fuels. A carcinogen-dependent, accident-prone industry has no business setting up shop next to schools and neighborhoods. It has no right to use our communities as its factory floor.
Governor Hickenlooper’s stated belief is that fracking fluid used by the industry is benign and even “edible." However, research shows that 40% of the 300+ chemicals presumed to be in fracking fluid are endocrine disruptors, 30% are known or suspected carcinogens, more than 30% are developmental toxicants, and 60% are believed to harm the brain and nervous system. And even if fracking companies shot only mothers' milk and applesauce down their fracking holes, we know that the fluid that flows back up with the gas contains not only the original ingredients but also toxic chemicals picked up from its contact with the shale. These can include radioactive substances, brine, and benzene that have been safely locked deep in the rock for millions of years.
We will be rallying at the Denver capitol to set the record straight and say in a clear voice that the emerging science does not in any way support the conclusion that fracking is safe, and hope you’ll join us (see www.frackfreeeco.com ). Indeed, the data available to us now compels us to demand an end to this dangerous practice. We scientists always want more research—and we should have it—but in the meantime, we mothers know that benefit of the doubt belongs to children, not to the things that threaten children.