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1,000+ Health Care Professionals Call on President Obama to Halt Fracking

Today, Environment America Research & Policy Center and its state affiliates delivered letters from more than 1,000 doctors, nurses and other health professionals to President Obama and state decision-makers asserting that fracking should be stopped, given the overwhelming threats to public health.

The letters come as public awareness of the health and environmental impacts of fracking is on the rise. For example, in a peer-reviewed study published last month, researchers found an increased rate of birth defects in babies born to mothers in Colorado who lived in close proximity to multiple oil and gas wells.

“Fracking is making people sick—period. Families from Pennsylvania to Colorado to North Dakota are already suffering from dangerous air pollution and water contamination caused by dirty drilling,” said Courtney Abrams, clean water program director for Environment America. “The time for action is now. And more than 1,000 doctors, nurses, and health professionals nationwide agree. This should serve as a wake up call for our decision-makers.”

Fracking is expanding rapidly across the country, and its effect on public health and the environment is increasingly taking its toll. There is a growing number of documented cases of individuals suffering acute and chronic health effects while living near fracking operations—including nausea, rashes, dizziness, headaches and nose bleeds. Physicians reviewing medical records in Pennsylvania have called these illnesses “the tip of the iceberg” of fracking’s impact on health.

“Fracking harms health in many ways: releasing toxic gases, contaminating huge amounts of water, and contributing heavily to climate change. As a nation, we should develop clean renewable energy instead,” said Catherine Thomasson, MD and executive director of Physicians for Social Responsibility. “Generating electricity shouldn’t be a source of illness; power shouldn’t be poisonous.”

Fracking operations have contaminated drinking water sources from Pennsylvania to New Mexico. Leaks and spills of fracking fluid, which often contain known carcinogens (e.g. benzene) and endocrine-disrupting chemicals, have polluted rivers and streams. Fracking wastewater—often laced with heavy metals (e.g. lead, arsenic) and radioactive materials (e.g. radon, uranium)—has leached from hundreds of waste pits into groundwater.

Air contaminants released from fracking operations include volatile organic compounds (VOCs); some are carcinogenic, and some damage the liver, kidneys and central nervous system. Researchers at the University of Colorado School of Public Health found that people living within a half-mile of gas fracking wells had a higher excess lifetime risk of developing cancer than people living farther away.

Despite these impacts, fracking is exempt from key provisions of the nation’s leading public health and environmental laws, including the Safe Drinking Water Act, the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act and the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, the law that regulates hazardous waste.

"As a nurse, I recognize prevention is a key component to health care—that's why research showing infants born near fracking sites have an increased risk of birth defects is cause for deep concern," said Katie Huffling, RN, MS, CNM and director of programs for the Alliance of Nurses for Healthy Environments. "Closing these regulatory loopholes is key to preventing exposure to potentially toxic fracking chemicals and air pollutants."

While the Obama Administration is considering action on fracking’s impacts—they are conducting a study to assess the threats to drinking water and are considering rules to regulate fracking on public lands and control methane emissions from oil and gas operations—there is very little federal oversight of the practice. State regulations are widely varying and largely inadequate to protect public health. For example, a Pennsylvania law has even issued a “gag order” on physicians, nurses and other health care providers, which prohibits them from telling patients or other providers the chemicals that patients may have been exposed to.

In the letters delivered today, the health professionals state, “the prudent and precautionary response would be to stop fracking.” Some of the letters call on state decision-makers to ban fracking, while a national letter calls on President Obama to take two immediate steps to better protect families and communities:

  • Call for closing the loopholes that exempt fracking from the nation’s major environmental and public health laws
  • Declare sensitive areas—including places that provide drinking water for millions of Americans—“off-limits” to fracking

“Fracking is a public health emergency. The Obama Administration should act with all its authority to better protect communities. And given the onslaught of damage fracking has already caused, we should ban this dirty drilling practice,” concluded Abrams.

Visit EcoWatch’s FRACKING page for more related news on this topic.

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Kevin Vallely

'Rowing the Northwest Passage' Chronicles An Expedition Through the Changing North

By Kevin Vallely

In 2013 four adventurers set out on an 80-day rowboat mission through the Arctic's rapidly melting Northwest Passage. Their journey brought them face to face with the changing seas in a world of climate change. In this excerpt from adventurer Kevin Vallely's new book about the expedition, Rowing the Northwest Passage (Greystone Books), we also see how climate change has affected some of the people the team met along their journey:

An elderly woman walks toward us from the road. Tuktoyaktuk, in the Northwest Territories, is a sizable town by Arctic standards, with a full-time population of 954, but it's small enough that the bulk of the town likely knows we're here. The woman is smiling when she reaches us.

"I saw you coming in," she says. "Where you guys come from?" "We're from Vancouver," I say, my mouth still half full of food. "We started our trip in Inuvik nine days ago." Her name is Eileen Jacobsen and she's an Elder in town. She and her husband, Billy, run a sightseeing business. "You should come up to the house in the morning and have some coffee," she tells us.

Our night's sleep in the Arctic Joule is fitful; our overindulgence runs through all of us like a thunderstorm. By seven in the morning, even with both hatches open, lighting a match in the cabin would blow us out like dirt from that Siberian crater. The roar of the Jetboil pulls me out. Frank's already up, down jacket on, preparing coffee. "You like a cup?"

It's still too early to drop by Eileen Jacobsen's house, so we walk into town on the dusty main road, our ears assaulted by a cacophony of barking dogs. Dirt is the surface of choice for roads and runways in Arctic communities, as any inflexible surface like concrete would be shredded by the annual freeze–thaw cycle. Most of the town runs the length of a thin finger of land, with the ocean on one side and a protected bay on the other. About halfway down the peninsula, a cluster of wooden crosses rests in a high grass clearing, facing west. We heard about this graveyard in Inuvik. Because of melting permafrost and wave action, it's eroding into the sea, and community members have lined the shore with large rocks to forestall its demise. This entire peninsula will face this threat in the coming years. There's not much land here to hold back a hungry ocean.

We notice an elderly man in a blue winter jacket staring at us a short distance away. He's sitting outside a small wooden house and smiles as we approach. "You guys must be the rowers," he says. "Too windy to be out rowing." His jacket hood is pulled tight over his ball cap and he dons a pair of wraparound shades with yellow lenses that would better suit a racing cyclist than a village Elder. His name is Fred Wolki, and he's lived in Tuk for the last fifty years. "I grew up on my father's boat until they sent me to school in 1944, then I came here."

His father, Jim Wolki, is a well-known fox trapper who transported his pelts from Banks Island to Herschel Island aboard his ship the North Star of Herschel Island. Interestingly, we had the Arctic Joule moored right beside the North Star at the Vancouver Maritime Museum before we left. Built in San Francisco in 1935, the North Star plied the waters of the Beaufort Sea for over thirty years, her presence in Arctic waters playing an important role in bolstering Canadian Arctic sovereignty through the Cold War.

"We're curious if things have changed much here since you were a boy," Frank says.

"Well … it's getting warmer now," Fred says, shaking his head. He gestures out to the water speaking slowly and pausing for long moments between thoughts. "Right up to the 1960s … there was old ice along the coast … The ice barely moved … It was grounded along the coastline." He looks out over the shoreline, moving his arm back and forth. "They started to fade away slowly in the 1960s … icebergs … They were huge, like big islands … They were so high, like the land at the dew Line station … over there." He points to the radar dome of the long decommissioned Distant Early Warning Line station that sits on a rise of land just east of us. "It's been twenty years since we've seen one in Tuk." There's no sentimentality or anger in Fred's voice; he's just telling us his story. "It's getting warmer now … Global warming is starting to take its toll … All the permafrost is starting to melt … Water is starting to eat away our land."

I listen to his words, amazed. There's no agenda here, no vested interest, no job creation or moneymaking—just an elderly man bearing witness to his changing world.

Excerpted from Rowing the Northwest Passage: Adventure, Fear, and Awe in a Rising Sea by Kevin Vallely, published September 2017 by Greystone Books. Condensed and reproduced with permission from the publisher.

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Hundreds Dead in Mexico After Earthquake Strikes on Anniversary of Devastating 1985 Quake

In Mexico, a massive 7.1-magnitude quake struck 100 miles southeast of Mexico City Tuesday, collapsing dozens of buildings around the capital city and trapping schoolchildren, workers and residents beneath the rubble.

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San Francisco Becomes First Major U.S. City to Sue Fossil Fuel Industry Over Costs of Climate Change

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The two Californian cities join the counties of Marin, San Mateo and San Diego and the city of Imperial Beach that have taken similar legal action in recent months, the San Francisco Chronicle reports.

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Climate Alliance States Show Us What Real Leadership Looks Like

By Luis Martinez and Kit Kennedy

In a forceful show of climate leadership, Governors Andrew Cuomo (NY), Jerry Brown (CA), and Jay Inslee (WA) and former Secretary of State John Kerry came together in New York City Wednesday as part of Climate Week to celebrate the progress and growth of the U.S. Climate Alliance, the bipartisan coalition that has grown to 14 states dedicated to meeting the Paris agreement climate goal. The coalition was founded by Cuomo, Brown and Inslee after President Trump announced the U.S. intent to withdraw from Paris.

President Trump may prefer to pretend that climate change isn't real—Gov. Cuomo quipped that the Trump administration is in "the State of Denial"—but these leaders detailed the extraordinary strides they're making, in the absence of White House leadership, to slash greenhouse gas emissions and grow their economies at the same time. For New Yorkers, it's exciting to see Cuomo's leadership on clean energy and climate continue to accelerate, from setting strong renewable energy goals, to a successful push with other Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative states to further slash carbon emissions, to banning fracking.

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Hurricane Maria Devastates Puerto Rico

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As new Hurricane Maria brings devastation to Puerto Rico, the governor of the island, Ricardo Rossello, has asked Donald Trump to declare the U.S. territory a disaster zone.

He has said that Maria could be the most damaging hurricane to hit the country in more than 100 years.

With maximum recorded wind speeds of 140 mph and rainfall of up to 25 inches or even higher, Mike Brennan, a senior hurricane specialist from the U.S. National Hurricane Center has also warned locals of flash-flooding and "punishing" rainfall. He added that the storm would remain "very dangerous" for the next couple of days.

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Nicaragua to Sign Paris Agreement, Leaving Trump Alone With Syria

When President Donald Trump decided to pull out of the Paris climate agreement in June, the United States joined the only two countries of the 197 nations in the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change that declined to sign the 2015 accord: Syria, which has been embroiled in a full-scale civil war for six years; and Nicaragua, as its leaders felt the pact was not strong enough to fight climate change.

But now, Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega said his country will sign the agreement "soon," Managua-based TV station 100% Noticias reports.

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14 States On Track to Meet Paris Targets

Fourteen states and Puerto Rico are on track to meet and potentially exceed their portion of the U.S. commitment under the Paris agreement.

The report shows that the member states of the U.S. Climate Alliance (USCA), which has grown to represent 36 percent of the U.S. population and more than $7 trillion of America's GDP, are collectively on track to reach a 24 to 29 percent reduction below 2005 emissions levels by 2025.

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