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Major Scientific Document Shows Why NY Fracking Moratorium Is Imperative

Fracking
Major Scientific Document Shows Why NY Fracking Moratorium Is Imperative

Less than two weeks ago, local communities triumphed over the fracking industry in a precedent-setting case decided by the New York Court of Appeals. The court ruled that the towns of Dryden and Middlefield can use local zoning laws to ban heavy industry, including oil and gas production within municipal borders.

While the court decision is a victory for the two towns, many New Yorkers continue to rally and push for a statewide fracking moratorium. In this vein, Concerned Health Professionals of New York (CHPNY) today released a major resource to the public, including public officials, researchers and journalists—the Compendium of Scientific, Medical and Media Findings Demonstrating Risks and Harms of Fracking.

Sandra joins with colleagues (L to R) Sheila Bushkin-Bedient, MD, MPH, Michelle Bamberger, MS, DVM, Robert Oswald, PhD and Kathleen Nolan, MD, MSL, in presenting a major new compilation—a Compendium—of the scientific, medical and media findings demonstrating risks and harms of fracking.

“This compilation of findings brings together data from many fields of study and reveals the diversity of the problems with fracking—from increased flood risks to increased crime risks, from earthquakes to methane leaks," said Sandra Steingraber, PhD, at a press conference held today. "What this multitude of threats all has in common is the ability to harm public health. That’s our message to Governor Cuomo and Acting Health Commissioner Zucker.”

As mounting evidence continues to find more costs than benefits to fracking, the compendium explains the motivation for compiling and making public the scientific, medical and media findings:

Despite this emerging body of knowledge, industry secrecy and government inaction continue to thwart scientific inquiry, leaving many potential problems—especially cumulative, long-term risks—unidentified, unmonitored and largely unexplored. This problem is compounded by non-disclosure agreements, sealed court records and legal settlements that prevent families (and their doctors) from discussing injuries. As a result, no comprehensive inventory of human hazards yet exists.

The compendium covers in detail the following 15 dangers, risks and associated trends created by the fracking process:

  • Air pollution

  • Water contamination

  • Inherent engineering problems that worsen with time

  • Radioactive releases

  • Occupational health and safety hazards

  • Noise pollution, light pollution and stress

  • Earthquake and seismic activity

  • Abandoned and active oil and natural gas wells (as pathways for gas and fluid migration)

  • Flood risks

  • Threats to agriculture and soil quality

  • Threats to the climate system

  • Inaccurate jobs claims, increased crime rates and threats to property value and mortgages

  • Inflated estimates of oil and gas reserves and profitability

  • Disclosure of serious risks to investors

  • Medical and scientific calls for more study and more transparency

In light of these findings, referenced with more than 300 citations, and remaining fundamental data gaps, CHPNY considers a fracking moratorium "the only appropriate and ethical course of action while scientific and medical knowledge on the impacts of fracking continues to emerge."

CHPNY sent the compendium to Gov. Cuomo (D), Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Martens and Acting Department of Health Commissioner Zucker. The group also sent a letter to Acting Commissioner Zucker requesting a meeting.

The compendium of dangers, available on the group's website, is designed as a living document that will be updated every six months. The first edition is current through June 30.

 

A net-casting ogre-faced spider. CBG Photography Group, Centre for Biodiversity Genomics / CC BY-SA 3.0

Just in time for Halloween, scientists at Cornell University have published some frightening research, especially if you're an insect!

The ghoulishly named ogre-faced spider can "hear" with its legs and use that ability to catch insects flying behind it, the study published in Current Biology Thursday concluded.

"Spiders are sensitive to airborne sound," Cornell professor emeritus Dr. Charles Walcott, who was not involved with the study, told the Cornell Chronicle. "That's the big message really."

The net-casting, ogre-faced spider (Deinopis spinosa) has a unique hunting strategy, as study coauthor Cornell University postdoctoral researcher Jay Stafstrom explained in a video.

They hunt only at night using a special kind of web: an A-shaped frame made from non-sticky silk that supports a fuzzy rectangle that they hold with their front forelegs and use to trap prey.

They do this in two ways. In a maneuver called a "forward strike," they pounce down on prey moving beneath them on the ground. This is enabled by their large eyes — the biggest of any spider. These eyes give them 2,000 times the night vision that we have, Science explained.

But the spiders can also perform a move called the "backward strike," Stafstrom explained, in which they reach their legs behind them and catch insects flying through the air.

"So here comes a flying bug and somehow the spider gets information on the sound direction and its distance. The spiders time the 200-millisecond leap if the fly is within its capture zone – much like an over-the-shoulder catch. The spider gets its prey. They're accurate," coauthor Ronald Hoy, the D & D Joslovitz Merksamer Professor in the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior in the College of Arts and Sciences, told the Cornell Chronicle.

What the researchers wanted to understand was how the spiders could tell what was moving behind them when they have no ears.

It isn't a question of peripheral vision. In a 2016 study, the same team blindfolded the spiders and sent them out to hunt, Science explained. This prevented the spiders from making their forward strikes, but they were still able to catch prey using the backwards strike. The researchers thought the spiders were "hearing" their prey with the sensors on the tips of their legs. All spiders have these sensors, but scientists had previously thought they were only able to detect vibrations through surfaces, not sounds in the air.

To test how well the ogre-faced spiders could actually hear, the researchers conducted a two-part experiment.

First, they inserted electrodes into removed spider legs and into the brains of intact spiders. They put the spiders and the legs into a vibration-proof booth and played sounds from two meters (approximately 6.5 feet) away. The spiders and the legs responded to sounds from 100 hertz to 10,000 hertz.

Next, they played the five sounds that had triggered the biggest response to 25 spiders in the wild and 51 spiders in the lab. More than half the spiders did the "backward strike" move when they heard sounds that have a lower frequency similar to insect wing beats. When the higher frequency sounds were played, the spiders did not move. This suggests the higher frequencies may mimic the sounds of predators like birds.

University of Cincinnati spider behavioral ecologist George Uetz told Science that the results were a "surprise" that indicated science has much to learn about spiders as a whole. Because all spiders have these receptors on their legs, it is possible that all spiders can hear. This theory was first put forward by Walcott 60 years ago, but was dismissed at the time, according to the Cornell Chronicle. But studies of other spiders have turned up further evidence since. A 2016 study found that a kind of jumping spider can pick up sonic vibrations in the air.

"We don't know diddly about spiders," Uetz told Science. "They are much more complex than people ever thought they were."

Learning more provides scientists with an opportunity to study their sensory abilities in order to improve technology like bio-sensors, directional microphones and visual processing algorithms, Stafstrom told CNN.

Hoy agreed.

"The point is any understudied, underappreciated group has fascinating lives, even a yucky spider, and we can learn something from it," he told CNN.

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