Quantcast
Energy

Dramatic Increases of Cancer-Causing Radon in PA Homes Linked to Fracking

Researchers in Pennsylvania have discovered that the prevalence of radon, a radioactive and carcinogenic gas, in people's homes and commercial buildings that are nearer to fracking sites has increased dramatically in the state since the unconventional and controversial gas drilling practice began in the state just over a decade ago

A drill worker covered in mud, shale, and drill cuttings seals off a well and cleans the blowout preventer at a Cabot Oil & Gas natural gas drill site in Kingsley, Pa. Photo credit: Lindsay Lazarski/WHYY

Both odorless and tasteless, radon is a naturally-occurring gas released from bedrock minerals beneath the ground and is found in millions of homes across the country. However, in a study published Thursday in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives, scientists compared the results of state-wide radon testing in Pennsylvania to find a significant correlation between unusually high levels of the deadly gas in some buildings (mostly residential homes) and the proliferation of fracking in certain areas of the state.

As State Impact Pennsylvania, the state's NPR affiliate, reports:

Researchers from Johns Hopkins University analyzed radon readings taken in some 860,000 buildings, mostly homes, from 1989 to 2013 and found that those in rural and suburban areas where most shale gas wells are located had a concentration of the cancer-causing radioactive gas that was 39 percent higher overall than those in urban areas.

It also found that buildings using well water had a 21 percent higher concentration of radon than those served by municipal water systems.

And it showed radon levels in active gas-drilling counties rose significantly starting in 2004 when the state’s fracking boom began.

And according to Phys.org:

Since radon is naturally occurring, in areas without adequate ventilation—like many basements—radon can accumulate to levels that substantially increase the risk of lung cancer.

The study's first author is Joan A. Casey, a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Health & Society Scholar at the University of California-Berkeley and San Francisco, who earned her PhD at the Bloomberg School in 2014. She says it is unclear whether the excess radon in people's homes is coming from radium getting into well water through the fracking process, being released into the air near the gas wells or whether natural gas from shale contains more radon than conventional gas and it enters homes through cooking stoves and furnaces. Another possibility, she says, is that in the past decade buildings have been more tightly sealed, potentially trapping radon that gets inside and leading to increased indoor radon levels. In the past, most radon has entered homes through foundation cracks and other openings into buildings.

"By drilling 7,000 holes in the ground, the fracking industry may have changed the geology and created new pathways for radon to rise to the surface," Casey says. "Now there are a lot of potential ways that fracking may be distributing and spreading radon."

According to its summary, the study "found a statistically significant association between proximity to unconventional natural gas wells drilled in the Marcellus shale and first floor radon concentration," especially during summer months. Though radon is often thought of as seeping up through basement floors, the researchers explain that airborne radon can also enter homes through open windows. After smoking, prolonged exposure to radon gas is considered to be the second-leading cause of lung cancer in the U.S.

A gas production unit (foreground) cleans, depressurizes, and moderates gas temperatures at a Cabot Oil & Gas drill site in Kingsley, Pa. Photo credit: Lindsay Lazarski/WHYY

"One plausible explanation for elevated radon levels in people's homes is the development of thousands of unconventional natural gas wells in Pennsylvania over the past 10 years," says study leader Brian S. Schwartz, MD, a professor in the Department of Environmental Health Sciences at the Bloomberg School. "These findings worry us."

Significantly, the new study—Predictors of Indoor Radon Concentrations in Pennsylvania 1989-2013—directly conflicts with a study released by Pennsylvania's Department of Environmental Protection in January of this year which concluded that there was "little potential for additional radon exposure to the public" due to the widespread fracking activities across the state. Despite the conflicting findings, both DEP and the John Hopkins researchers acknowledged it was difficult to compare the studies as they had dissimilar methodologies and measured radon in significantly different ways.

Though gas industry officials were quick to criticize the findings of the new study, Dr. Bernard Goldstein, a former dean of the University of Pittsburgh School of Public Health and a former Environmental Protection Agency official, told NBC News that the industry can no longer ignore such worrying findings associated with its practices.

"The industry needs to abandon this excuse it hides behind which is, 'we've been doing this for 65 years, why are you worried'?" Goldstein said. "That's simply wrong. This ought to be treated as if it's something, like nanotechnology, which is a new thing that needs to be done carefully," he added.

Though people who buy new homes are often required to perform radon testing, Goldstein points out that "people who have been living in the house for a long time generally don't measure" for the deadly gas.

With the expansion of fracking across much of the state, he said, more people living near these drilling operation "should be measuring."

YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE

Fracking’s Most Wanted

Staggering Rise in Fracking Earthquakes Triggers Kansas to Take Action

States Fail to Properly Manage Fracking Waste, Says Groundbreaking Report

Show Comments ()

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Sponsored
Animals
An adult bush dog, part of a captive breeding program. Hudson Garcia

A Rescue Dog Is Now Helping to Save Other (Much Wilder) Dogs

By Jason Bittel

Formidable predators stalk the forests between Panama and northern Argentina. They are sometimes heard but never seen. They are small but feisty and have even been documented trying to take down a tapir, which can top out at nearly 400 pounds. Chupacabras? No.

Keep reading... Show less
Health
RoNeDya / iStock / Getty Images

What Is Mead, and Is It Good for You?

By Ansley Hill, RD, LD

Mead is a fermented beverage traditionally made from honey, water and a yeast or bacterial culture.

Keep reading... Show less
Climate
U.S. Army member helps clear debris from Tyndall Air Force Base following Hurricane Michael. U.S. Army

Pentagon: Climate Change Is Real and a 'National Security Issue'

The Pentagon released a Congressionally mandated report (pdf) that warns flooding, drought and wildfires and other effects of climate change puts U.S. military bases at risk.

The 22-page analysis states plainly: "The effects of a changing climate are a national security issue with potential impacts to Department of Defense (DoD or the Department) missions, operational plans, and installations."

Keep reading... Show less
Popular
Protesters interrupt the confirmation hearing for Andrew Wheeler on Capitol Hill Jan. 16 in Washington, DC. Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

5 People Calling Out EPA Acting Head Wheeler for Putting Polluters First

This week, people across the country are joining environmental leaders to speak out against the nomination of former coal lobbyist Andrew Wheeler to lead the the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). As Scott Pruitt's hand-picked successor, Wheeler has continued to put polluters over people, most recently by using the last of his agency's funding before it expired in the government shutdown to announce plans to allow power plants to spew toxic mercury and other hazardous pollution into the air.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Popular
Great white shark. Elias Levy / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

Marine Biologists Raise Flags About Viral Great White Shark Encounter

By now you might have seen Ocean Ramsey's rare and jaw-dropping encounter with a great white shark in waters near Oahu, Hawaii.

Ramsey, a marine biologist, said on the TODAY Show that it was "absolutely breathtaking and heart-melting" to be approached by the massive marine mammal.

Keep reading... Show less
A tree found severed in half in an act of vandalism in Joshua Tree National Park. Gina Ferazzi / Los AngelesTimes / Getty Images

Wall Before Country Takes Mounting Toll on Americans Everywhere

By Rhea Suh

One month on, the longest and most senseless U.S. government shutdown in history is taking a grave and growing toll on the environment and public health.

Food inspectors have been idled or are working without pay, increasing the risk we'll get sick from eating produce, meat and poultry that isn't properly checked. National parks and public wilderness lands are overrun by vandals, overtaken by off-road joyriders, and overflowing with trash. Federal testing of air and water quality, as well as monitoring of pollution levels from factories, incinerators and other sources, is on hold or sharply curtailed. Citizen input on critical environmental issues is being hindered. Vital research and data collection are being sidelined.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Energy
The W. A. Parish Power Plant, owned by NRG Energy, is one of the largest coal-fired power plants in the U.S. Roy Luck / CC BY 2.0

All Coal-Fired Power Plants in Texas Found Leaking Toxins Into Groundwater

Power plants across Texas are leaching toxins into groundwater, according to new research. A report released this week from the Environmental Integrity Project found that all of the state's 16 coal-fired power plants are leaching contaminants from coal ash into the ground, and almost none of the plants are properly lining their pits to prevent leakage.

Keep reading... Show less
Popular
Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Site. NPS

MLK National Park to Re-Open Despite Shutdown, Thanks to Delta

Hats off to Delta Air Lines. The company's charitable arm awarded the National Park Service an $83,500 grant to help reopen the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historical Park in Atlanta from Jan. 19 through Feb. 3 in honor of Dr. King's legacy.

The Atlanta-based airline was inspired to act after learning that some of the park's sites, including Dr. King's birth home, Ebenezer Baptist Church, Fire Station No. 6 and the visitor center, were closed due to the partial government shutdown, now on its 28th day, according to LinkedIn post from Delta Air Lines CEO Ed Bastian.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored

mail-copy

The best of EcoWatch, right in your inbox. Sign up for our email newsletter!