Denial is not a river in Egypt, but some, like the faithful followers of FrackNation, live in it. Unfortunately for those whose drinking water is contaminated, both by waste water produced by the process of fracking and its disposal, the dangers are becoming increasingly documented and the potential dangers are still awaiting the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) report due out in 2014.
While much of the evidence Josh Fox presented in his documentary, Gasland, was anecdotal, it also presented the testimony of an EPA official, Weston Wilson. Identified as a whistle blower who reported on flaws in the 2004 EPA study that found no harmful effects, Wilson made the startling statement, "all science, all data, everything stopped," when Fox queried, "so, all science at that point stopped?"
Among the revelations in Wilson's report was the fact that five of the seven members who reviewed the data on a reported contamination of a water well in Alabama had a conflict of interests. Though speculative, significant suspicion is raised by a comment Wilson made just moments later, "when a president says don't investigate . . . we do those jobs well too."
In fact, Vice President Dick Cheney, a former CEO of Halliburton—the firm that developed the method and equipment used in fracking—had designed the Bush administration's energy policy. Concern should also arise in consideration of the fact that George W. Bush appointee, Mike Leavitt, then head of the EPA, had been recommended for the position by Cheney. Suspicion of Leavitt arises from his overall environmental record, but specifically because he "was at the center of a controversy a couple of months ago for a back-room deal he made with Interior Secretary Gale Norton to suspend wilderness studies on millions of acres of Utah lands."
The mounting evidence that chemicals used in fracking are seeping into water supplies can no longer be reasonably denied on the basis of suspect EPA reports, and others like that done by the New York state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Division of Mineral Resources (PDF). It is interesting to note as well that the NY state report relied heavily on the testimony of regulators in 12 Republican controlled states, and did not offer any reports from states that were not under Republican control, and has come under criticism for failing to address the radiological data in the report.
The issue of even more damning evidence of radiological contamination is becoming more prevalent in the research, and especially in light of recent discoveries that chemicals are turning up in Wyoming, Pennsylvania, and elsewhere. If concern is not raised by the report by Marvin Resnikoff, Radioactive Waste Management Associates, "Radon in Natural Gas from Marcellus Shale," wherein he estimated that the radon in gas extracted from Marcellus shale would add 1,182 to 30,448 deaths to the 11.9 million people affected in the New York City metro area alone, an update to a recent article in this column on the potential for airborne radium peroxide particulate contamination should.
Keep in mind that, at the time of the Manhattan Project in 1944, the "tolerance dose" for workers was set at 0.1 microgram of ingested radium. Now, with the further realization that untreated waste water from fracking operations is routinely used as a deicing agent on roadways and to suppress dust on unpaved roads, the data on radiation from the DEC should leave no doubt that people are being subjected to airborne radium peroxide.
Since treatment of the water by the few water treatment facilities equipped to remove radioactive contaminants will remove only 90 percent of the radioactive materials, the waste water then injected into the rivers even by these facilities still exceeds "safe" levels of exposure by a factor of 320 times.
While some states, like Pennsylvania, which once allowed dumping of fracking waste water directly into rivers, have tightened their restrictions on new discharges of treated waste water, due to the level of bromides in it, they still allow existing treatment facilities without the capacity to remove radiological contaminants to discharge into waterways that provide the drinking water for millions. The shortsightedness of this is not mitigated by the two factors which may mitigate the damage done.
While even the enormous volume of waste water will certainly be diluted by the volume of water in the rivers in which it is dumped, and people pass through most of mineral salts containing the radioactive material in their urine, some of the material is absorbed and lodges in bone and tooth enamel. What makes this a problem are two other considerations. First, there is the fact that continued exposure will ultimately result in unsafe levels of radioactive minerals in the body. The second is that the argument is only valid—to the extent that it addresses only infrequent, isolated exposure—when addressing the radioactive content of drinking water.
When airborne particulate radium is inhaled, it is not passed through the urinary tract. What is not exhaled or trapped in mucus, and subsequently ejected, lodges in the lungs. When the problem of airborne radiation has come to our attention, as it has with the "downwinders" exposed to the fallout from above-ground nuclear tests and those living near uranium processing plants, 2011's Fukushima disaster, and even the problem associated with the use of depleted uranium munitions in Iraq. But no studies have thus far even been considered to detect and measure the radioactive contaminants that become airborne consequent to their being used on roadways throughout the northern states.
Starting in the mid 1970s, tetraethyl lead, which had been added to gasoline to improve its octane rating, was banned from use in automotive applications in the US because of its neurotoxicity. The principal reason for the ban was not simply because it remained suspended in the air we breathe. It was also because it settled in our roadways, where passing vehicles continuously raised it with the dust.
We cannot undo the damage done, but we can mitigate the harm done in the future by making a thorough study of the ways the radium in fracking waste water is contaminating our environment. All that is standing in the way is an industry spin machine and their paid political lackeys who put personal gain ahead of the thousands of lives we already know to be at risk, and of course those who live in denial and support them.