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New Fracking Study Finds Children at Greater Risk of Respiratory Health Problems
Unconventional oil and gas (UOG) operations such as fracking might allow for cheaper prices to heat your home, but a growing number of scientists are becoming concerned about its unacceptable health implications.
In the first comprehensive literature review to date on the respiratory health risks associated with UOG, experts from the Center for Environmental Health, the Institute for Health and the Environment, Physicians for Social Responsibility and the Alliance of Nurses for Healthy Environments have found that these operations are particularly harmful to infants and young children.
The study, Hazards of UOG Emissions on Children’s and Infants’ Respiratory Health, was published today in the journal Reviews on Environmental Health.
The the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) found that there are nearly 700 chemicals used in the fracking process. Fracking fluids can contain a toxic slew of hazardous chemicals that can affect human health and the environment, but oil and gas companies are not required to disclose exactly what they are.
According to the study, at least five chemicals associated with unconventional oil and gas operations and fracking—tropospheric ozone, particulate matter, silica dust, benzene and formaldehyde—are linked to respiratory health issues on infants and children, including asthma, reduced lung and pulmonary function, increased susceptibility to infection, chest discomfort, difficulty breathing, lung inflammation and other adverse outcomes.
The heavy industrial processes of unconventional oil and gas such as fracking—which involves the pumping of highly pressurized water, sand and chemicals into underground rock formations—can negatively affect air quality in a number of ways, and not just from the release of the trapped oil and gas. The study states:
Sources of air pollution include emissions from the extraction and processing of natural gas, as well as the transportation via natural gas infrastructure components including compressor stations and pipelines. Pollutants can be emitted during venting, flaring, production and leaks from faulty casings. In addition, truck transportation of materials to and from well pads and vehicular equipment use during construction and maintenance generate air pollution from particulate matter and diesel exhaust.
These processes release numerous contaminants into the air, resulting in elevated concentrations of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), methane, ozone, NOx and VOCs [volatile organic compounds] like benzene, formaldehyde, alkenes, alkanes, aromatic compounds, and aldehydes.
Many of these pollutant groups have been recognized by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, Centers for Disease Control, Environmental Protection Agency, Occupational Safety and Health Administration, and National Institutes of Health as hazardous respiratory pollutants.
Unfortunately, children and newborns may suffer disproportionately from exposure to air pollutant emissions from UOG development. According to the review, a young person's developing respiratory system is particularly vulnerable to air pollution for a number of reasons:
- First, children’s respiratory systems are still growing.
- Second, due to their smaller size, children’s developing respiratory systems are more exposed to air pollution.
- Third, they have narrower airways, which also contributes to their increased susceptibility to irritation by air pollution.
- Fourth, children are shorter and thus inhale a greater concentration of particulate air pollutants and dust.
- Fifth, children have an increased resting respiratory rate compared to adults.
- Finally, children spend more time outdoors where the concentrations of some air pollutants are highest; and active outdoor play increases ventilation rates, thus increasing exposure to air pollutants relative to adults.
The authors identified an urgent need for more research on air pollutant emissions associated with UOG, as they commonly occur.
They also recommended a number of ways to move forward in order to ensure public health and safety, such as federal standards that reduce air pollutant emissions from oil and gas development, including methane, VOCs, particulate matter and ozone.
"The EPA’s proposed measures to cut methane and VOC emissions from the oil and natural gas industry will not only address climate change, but also reduce the exposure of nearby communities to these pollutants and the subsequent risk of health effects, including respiratory morbidity and mortality," the authors noted.
The authors pointed out that people who live in close proximity (less than or equal to a half of mile) to high-density drilling areas are at greater risk for health effects from exposure to natural gas development than those living greater than a half of mile from wells. They thus recommended that schools, hospitals and other dwellings where infants and children might spend a lot of time should be at least one mile away from a drilling facility.
They also strongly recommended policies that strengthen disclosure and transparency about chemicals used in UOG.
"Due to the 2005 Energy Policy Act, a number of chemicals associated with UOG are not reported to the public," the authors said. "Disclosure of chemicals is critical to be able to understand the full scope of respiratory health effects for infants and children."
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A powerful volcano on Monday rocked an uninhabited island frequented by tourists about 30 miles off New Zealand's coast. Authorities have confirmed that five people died. They expect that number to rise as some are missing and police officials issued a statement that flights around the islands revealed "no signs of life had been seen at any point,", as The Guardian reported.
"Based on the information we have, we do not believe there are any survivors on the island," the police said in their official statement. "Police is working urgently to confirm the exact number of those who have died, further to the five confirmed deceased already."
The eruption happened on New Zealand's Whakaari/White Island, an islet jutting out of the Bay of Plenty, off the country's North Island. The island is privately owned and is typically visited for day-trips by thousands of tourists every year, according to The New York Times.
My god, White Island volcano in New Zealand erupted today for first time since 2001. My family and I had gotten off it 20 minutes before, were waiting at our boat about to leave when we saw it. Boat ride home tending to people our boat rescued was indescribable. #whiteisland pic.twitter.com/QJwWi12Tvt— Michael Schade (@sch) December 9, 2019
Michael Schade / Twitter
At the time of the eruption on Monday, about 50 passengers from the Ovation of Seas were on the island, including more than 30 who were part of a Royal Caribbean cruise trip, according to CNN. Twenty-three people, including the five dead, were evacuated from the island.
The eruption occurred at 2:11 pm local time on Monday, as footage from a crater camera owned and operated by GeoNet, New Zealand's geological hazards agency, shows. The camera also shows dozens of people walking near the rim as white smoke billows just before the eruption, according to Reuters.
Police were unable to reach the island because searing white ash posed imminent danger to rescue workers, said John Tims, New Zealand's deputy police commissioner, as he stood next to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in a press conference, as The New York Times reported. Tims said rescue workers would assess the safety of approaching the island on Tuesday morning. "We know the urgency to go back to the island," he told reporters.
"The physical environment is unsafe for us to return to the island," Tims added, as CNN reported. "It's important that we consider the health and safety of rescuers, so we're taking advice from experts going forward."
Authorities have had no communication with anyone on the island. They are frantically working to identify how many people remain and who they are, according to CNN.
Geologists said the eruption is not unexpected and some questioned why the island is open to tourism.
"The volcano has been restless for a few weeks, resulting in the raising of the alert level, so that this eruption is not really a surprise," said Bill McGuire, emeritus professor of geophysical and climate hazards at University College London, as The Guardian reported.
"White Island has been a disaster waiting to happen for many years," said Raymond Cas, emeritus professor at Monash University's school of earth, atmosphere and environment, as The Guardian reported. "Having visited it twice, I have always felt that it was too dangerous to allow the daily tour groups that visit the uninhabited island volcano by boat and helicopter."
The prime minister arrived Monday night in Whakatane, the town closest to the eruption, where day boats visiting the island are docked. Whakatane has a large Maori population.
Ardern met with local council leaders on Monday. She is scheduled to meet with search and rescue teams and will speak to the media at 7 a.m. local time (1 p.m. EST), after drones survey the island, as CNN reported.
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