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PSR Addresses Anti-Fracking Rally at U.S. Capitol

July 31, 2012

Catherine Thomasson, MD, PSR’s executive director, addressed thousands of people rallying at the U.S. Capitol on July 28 to protest pollution and climate change caused by “fracking.”  Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, is the extractive technology now being used to enable the boom in natural gas production. 

It has resulted in water pollution, air pollution, and greenhouse gas emissions, in states from Pennsylvania and New York to Utah and Wyoming. 

The rally, organized by an ad hoc coalition called “StoptheFrackAttack,” brought together people from many affected states, especially in the northeast.

Increases climate change

As the crowd sweated under a hot sun, Dr. Thomasson noted, “This isn’t just a hot summer; it is climate change.”  In her remarks, Dr. Thomasson highlighted the leakage from fracking sites of methane, a highly potent greenhouse gas.  Methane greatly accelerates climate change, and climate change in turn contributes to heat waves which can provoke heat stroke, heart attacks, asthma and other potentially lethal health effects.

Climate change is also linked to a host of other health-related effects, from accidental deaths due to extreme weather events, to increases in insect-borne and infectious diseases, to crop failures and insufficient food supply, to “climate refugees” and war.

Dr. Thomasson also noted that legislation passed in 2005 exempts the natural gas industry from seven major environmental laws, including the Clean Air Act and the Safe Drinking Water Act, paving the way for unsafe fracking.

Respiratory, neurological effects

Most fracking takes place in rural areas.  In recent years, farm families living close to fracking wells have been diagnosed with respiratory and neurological effects based on their exposure to air pollutants such as benzene.  Air quality is further compromised by the intensive truck traffic required by fracking, resulting in substantial diesel emissions.

Fracking can also pollute water.  Drilling chemicals and fracturing fluids used in various steps of the drilling process can be highly toxic and include known carcinogens, such as benzene, butoxyethanol, boric acid, and methanol.

PSR calls for moratorium

PSR’s board of directors has called for a moratorium on fracking until health-protective regulations can be put in place that will provide protection from these and other health impacts.

Lacking these protections, fracking’s impacts on human health are anticipated to increase as gas development moves closer to residential communities.

A series of articles on the health effects of fracking is available on PSR’s Environmental Health Policy Institute.

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