Monday, January 30, 2012

Adverse Animal Health Impacts Associated with Fracking

A new peer-reviewed scientific article on the negative animal health impacts of gas drilling was recently published in New Solutions, Vol. 22(1) 51-77, 2012.

 Impacts of Gas Drilling on Human and Animal Health by Michelle Bamberger and Robert E. Oswalde is a study of the health problems reported by those who live and farm near gas drilling operations. Most striking are the animal deaths and illnesses.  As the study noted, "[b]ecause animals often are exposed continually to air, soil, and groundwater and have more frequent reproductive cycles, animals can be used as sentinels to monitor impacts to human health."

The study relied on interviews with residents and animal owners in areas affected by gas drilling in Colorado, Louisiana, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Texas; state environmental regulatory agency documentation; interviews with veterinarians; water, soil, and air testing results; lab tests on affected animals and their owners; and interviews with drilling company representatives.

Health impacts that are reported include sudden death, neurological impairment, severe reproductive problems, including abnormal births and still birth, as well as urological, gastrointestinal, and dermatological maladies.

Some problems are linked to accidental exposure to toxic chemicals as a result of a spill or negligence.  Other problems are linked to more insidious exposure through normal operations. Contaminated fresh water supplies and access to toxic wastewater were commonly associated with the most serious health problems and many deaths. Cattle with access to creeks near wells have died suddenly. Cats and dogs who licked their paws after walking through and drinking from wastewater puddles, "became severely ill and died over a period of one to three days."  The reports are straightforward and objectively reported, and very powerful.

The authors concede that "[c]omplete evidence regarding health impacts of gas drilling cannot be obtained due to incomplete testing and disclosure of chemicals, and nondisclosure agreements." Indeed, the authors make a strong case for "common sense policy reforms" that would allow for the collection of the data necessary to support more detailed scientific analysis of short and long term health impacts.

Nevertheless, the study confirms that "clear health risks are present in gas drilling operations," and it documents a wide variety of serious health problems observed in farm animals, domestic pets, wildlife, and humans who live in proximity to such operations.  The authors conclude, "[w]ithout rigorous scientific studies, the gas drilling boom sweeping the world will remain an uncontrolled health
experiment on an enormous scale."


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