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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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Farms with just one or a handful of different crops encourage fewer species of pollinating and pest-controlling insects to linger, ultimately winnowing away crop yields, according to a new study.
Up to half of the detrimental impacts of the "landscape simplification" that monocropping entails come as a result of a diminished mix of ecosystem service-providing insects, a team of scientists reported Oct. 16 in the journal Science Advances.
Monocrop palm oil plantation Honduras.
SHARE Foundation / Flickr / CC BY-NC 2.0
"Our study shows that biodiversity is essential to ensure the provision of ecosystem services and to maintain a high and stable agricultural production," Matteo Dainese, the study's lead author and a biologist at Eurac Research in Bolzano, Italy, said in a statement.
It stands to reason that, with declines in the sheer numbers of insects that ferry pollen from plant to plant and keep crop-eating pests under control, these services will wane as well. But until now, it hasn't been clear how monocultures affect the number and mix of these species or how crop yields might change as a result.
Aiming to solve these questions, Dainese and his colleagues pulled together data from 89 studies cutting across a variety of landscapes, from the tropics of Asia and Africa to the higher latitudes of northern Europe. They tabulated the number of pollinating and pest-controlling insects at these sites — both the absolute number of individuals and the number of species — along with an assessment of the ecosystem services the insects provided.
In almost all of the studies they looked at, the team found that a more diverse pool of these species translated into more pollination and greater pest control. They also showed that simplified landscapes supported fewer species of service-providing insects, which ultimately led to lower crop yields.
The researchers also looked at a third measure of the makeup of insect populations — what they called "evenness." In natural ecosystems, a handful of dominant species with many more individuals typically live alongside a higher number of rarer species. The team found as landscapes became less diverse, dominant species numbers dwindled and rare species gained ground. This resulting, more equitable mix led to less pollination (though it didn't end up affecting pest control).
"Our study provides strong empirical support for the potential benefits of new pathways to sustainable agriculture that aim to reconcile the protection of biodiversity and the production of food for increasing human populations," Ingolf Steffan-Dewenter, one of the study's authors and an animal ecologist at the University of Würzburg in Germany, said in the statement.
The scientists figure that the richness of pollinator species explains around a third of the harmful impacts of less diverse landscapes, while the richness of pest-controlling species accounts for about half of the same measure. In their view, the results of their research point to the need to protect biodiversity on and around crops in an uncertain future.
"Under future conditions with ongoing global change and more frequent extreme climate events, the value of farmland biodiversity ensuring resilience against environmental disturbances will become even more important," Steffan-Dewenter said.
Reposted with permission from our media associate Mongabay.
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