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Environmentalists blasted for 'underreporting' water toxins near fracking site

Published time: November 04, 2012 00:53
Edited time: December 24, 2013 15:53
Earth moving equipment and natural gas containers are viewed at a hydraulic fracturing site on June 19, 2012 in South Montrose, Pennsylvania (AFP Photo / Spencer Platt)

Earth moving equipment and natural gas containers are viewed at a hydraulic fracturing site on June 19, 2012 in South Montrose, Pennsylvania (AFP Photo / Spencer Platt)

Environmental officials in Pennsylvania have come under fire for their tests on drinking water from a well near a natural gas drilling site. The site’s owners have been taken to court for allegedly poisoning residents.

The documents were released this week, as part of a lawsuit that 7 plaintiffs who live near a hydraulic fracturing or fracking site, are serving on the gas industry.

The residents claim that waste water from a nearby site has contaminated their drinking water.

Toxicology tests on the seven claimants, who live within a mile of the drill and waste water site in Amwell Township, Pennsylvania, found toluene, benzene and arsenic in their bodies.

Mr. Loren Kiskadden, one of the plaintiffs, says he has a number of health problems including nausea, bone pain, breathing difficulties and severe headaches, New York Times reports. He says these symptoms are consistent with exposure to “hazardous chemicals and gasses through air and water.”

The chemicals used in fracking, particularly those found in the waste water which is pumped back into the ground under high pressure, are thought by some to lead to serious health problems.

A nurse who has firsthand experience of the health effects of the chemicals used in fracking, pointed to evidence linking the chemicals to cancer as well as liver, kidney and neurological damage in an article in the Baltimore Sun published in July 2012.

However, she also argued that as fracking has only recently taken off in many parts of the US, there is insufficient data on the dangers of the chemicals used. There is also lack of statutory or regulatory processes to ensure health and environmental safety.

There have been numerous reports in the US media about the dangerous health effects of fracking, including a case in Colorado last year, reported in Pro Publica – an independent, non-profit, investigative journalism organization – where Susan Wallace-babb suffered explosive diarrhea, vomiting, skin rashes, and lesions. All of her symptoms were linked to a nearby fracking site.

Right across Colorado, where hydraulic fracturing has become extensive, millions of tons of hazardous waste are dumped into open air pits. The pits have been shown to leak into ground water and give off chemical emissions, as the fluids evaporate.

Mr. Kiskadden’s water was subsequently tested by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection in June 2011 and January 2012.

But Kendra Smith, Mr. Kiskadden’s lawyer, contends that the department purposefully avoided reporting the full results of its tests.

The department, she says, used a method to test for the poisons established by the Federal Protection Agency known as 200.7. Ms. Smith claims that of the 24 metals that the method tests for, only 8 were reported.

A scientist who carried out the tests, Tara Upadhyay, said in a deposition that her laboratory tested for a range of metals but reported on only some of them. She says that was because the Environmental Protection Department’s oil and gas division had not requested the results from the complete range of tests.

She said that metals found in the tests but not reported included copper, zinc, nickel and titanium. All of these metals, according to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, may damage the health of people exposed to them.

Ms. Smith wrote on Thursday in a letter to Michael Krancer, Pennsylvania's environmental secretary, that Upadhyay’s testimony “was quite extraordinary. She revealed what can only be characterized as a deliberate procedure [by the oil and gas division and the Bureau of Laboratories] to withhold critical water testing results.”

But Kevin Sunday, a spokesman for the Environmental Protection Department blasted Ms. Smith’s “outrageous contention” and accused her of failing to substantiate her argument that the department omitted key evidence in the tests.

“The battery of analyses we order during investigations are thorough and give us the results we need to make sound determinations, which we fully stand behind,” he said in a statement.

Mr. Sunday continued that officials only wanted to see the results that they deemed relevant to determining whether drinking water was being contaminated by shale gas drilling and production.

He added that the remaining metals were present in concentrations that were below federal standards for safe drinking water or didn’t have any standards attached to them.

The Amwell site is among those the Environmental Protection Department is using in its investigation into whether fracking affects ground and drinking water.

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