Last week, National Public Radio (NPR) took a deeper look into the natural gas boom in the U.S. The special series, The Fracking Boom: Missing Answers, questions what the gas boom is doing to the air and water in communities where fracking has become a household name.
The NPR series explores the question "Are these wells creating harmful pollutants?" and dives deep to identify issues caused from the more than 200,000 wells drilled in the U.S. in just under a decade.
On May 14, Christopher Joyce's report, With Gas Boom, Pennsylvania Fears New Toxic Legacy, honed in on the impacts of drilling in the Pennsylvania Marcellus formation, including the unexpected nuisance of truck traffic, what to do with the toxic wastewater from fracking, water contamination from spills at well sites and groundwater contamination. With more than 5,000 new wells drilled in Pennsylvania since 2008, residents are deeply concerned about this "new toxic legacy," and the impact fracking has on human health and the environment.
On May 15, Rob Stein's report, Sick From Fracking? Doctors, Patients Seek Answers, identified the concerns of residents living near fracking sites and their fear of the unknown impacts natural gas drilling will have on the health of their community. From gusts of fumes occupying their airways and buildings to mysterious health-related symptoms, doctors and residents living in fracking war zones expound on their concerns.
Also on May 15, Elizabeth Shogren's report, 'Close Encounters' With Gas Well Pollution, exposed the concerns in Silt, Colorado, where natural gas drilling well pads have taken over the landscape. Here again, concerns for the community's health are revealed as residents experience "itchy eyes, scratchy throats and getting sick to their stomachs." In this extensive report, it becomes clear that it's time to connect the dots and officially identify the true impacts of hydraulic fracturing on communities before more people are put into harms way.
On May 16, Jon Hamilton's report, Medical Records Could Yield Answers on Fracking, explored the health impacts on residents living above the Marcellus Shale formation in northern Pennsylvania that could help resolve the national debate on whether fracking is making people sick. The report begins with a disturbing image of William Reigle, a Pennsylvania resident with fibrosis who is concerned that a nearby fracking well may be aggravating his disease, while he sits in a doctor's office with his nose pinched and blows into a tube testing his airway capacity. The piece focuses on the importance of letting the facts tell the story by evaluating detailed health histories of hundreds of thousands of people living near these fracking sites.
Also on May 16, Jon Hamilton's report, Town's Effort to Link Fracking and Illness Falls Short, revealed that scientists are not convinced that the evidence collected blaming health problems on fracking—from nosebleeds to cancer—is the cause. However, it's very clear that the small town of Dish, Texas—population 225 and 35 miles north of Fort Worth—has not been the same since it became the epicenter of the fracking boom.
On May 17, Elizabeth Shogren's report, Fracking's Methane Trail: A Detective Story, followed the work of Gaby Petron, an air pollution investigator for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). When Petron saw high levels of methane in readings from a NOAA observation tower north of Denver, she had to determine why there was an increase and where it came from. The results of her observations, which were published in the Journal of Geophysical Research, suggest that methane, a potent greenhouse gas, is leaking at at least twice the rate reported by the industry. The report makes clear that "scientists need to play a much bigger role in measuring air pollution from natural gas production—at well sites and compressor stations, and over entire gas fields."
Also on May 17, Susan Phillips's report, Pennsylvania Doctors Worry Over Fracking 'Gag Rule,' explained the new law in Pennsylvania that "grants physicians access to information about trade-secret chemicals used in natural gas drilling... But the new law also says that doctors can't tell anyone else—not even other doctors—what's in those formulas. It's being called the 'doctor gag rule.'" The piece details a case study in which a boy living near natural gas drilling activity is experiencing nosebleeds, liver damage and has a strange skin lesion. Dr. Amy Pare explains that in order to determine what is causing the problems with her patient, it's critical to know exactly what he has been exposed to. Having access to that information through this new law is great, but it's unclear if doctors can legally share this information with their patients and public health officials.
After reading and listening to this well-researched NPR series on the U.S. fracking boom, it's very clear to me that referring to natural gas as a cheap, homegrown solution to our nation's energy crisis is absurd. The promise of economic recovery, job growth and community wealth is an illusion that the fossil fuel industry's propaganda machine is selling to the American people. Sacrificing human health and the environment in the name of corporate profits is criminal. We need to educate our fellow Americans about the risks associated with continued use of fossil fuels and support policies that will transition our nation to relying on cleaner, renewable sources of energy.
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The U.S. reported more than 55,000 new coronavirus cases on Thursday, in a sign that the outbreak is not letting up as the Fourth of July weekend kicks off.
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By Jason Bruck
Human actions have taken a steep toll on whales and dolphins. Some studies estimate that small whale abundance, which includes dolphins, has fallen 87% since 1980 and thousands of whales die from rope entanglement annually. But humans also cause less obvious harm. Researchers have found changes in the stress levels, reproductive health and respiratory health of these animals, but this valuable data is extremely hard to collect.
Researchers work with trained dolphins to learn more about their sensory abilities, seen here testing a dolphin's hearing. Jason Bruck / CC BY-ND
A Lot to Learn From Hormones<p>When sampling the blow, we are looking for hormones in mucus as these can be used to gauge psychological and physiological health. We are specifically interested in <a href="https://dx.doi.org/10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0114062" target="_blank">hormones like cortisol</a> and <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ygcen.2018.04.003" target="_blank">progesterone</a>, which indicate stress levels and reproductive ability respectively, but can also help determine overall health.</p><p>Additionally, blow samples can detect <a href="https://dx.doi.org/10.1128%2FmSystems.00119-17" target="_blank">respiratory pathogens</a> in the lungs or nasal passages - blowholes evolved from noses after all.</p><p>This health analysis is especially important in areas with oil spills as the chemicals can cause hormonal problems that harm <a href="https://www.carmmha.org/investigating-how-oil-spills-affect-dolphins-and-whales/" target="_blank">development, metabolism and reproduction</a> in dolphins.</p><p>Hormone samples can provide scientists with valuable data, but collecting them from intelligent and unpredictable animals is challenging.</p>
Cetacean Collaborators<p>To build a drone that can stealthily collect spray from moving dolphins, we needed more data on their eyesight and hearing, and this is data that couldn't be collected in the wild nor simulated in a lab.</p><p>We worked with dolphins at facilities like Dolphin Quest in Bermuda, which provides guests opportunities to learn about dolphins while allowing <a href="https://dolphinquest.com/about-us/our-story/" target="_blank">scientists access to animals for noninvasive research</a>. Here the dolphins can swim away if they choose not to work with us, so we had to design the study like a game; the way a kindergarten teacher entertains a class. If the dolphins aren't interested, we don't get to do the science.</p><p>Over the course of hundreds of sessions, we sought to answer two questions: What can dolphins hear and what can they see around their heads?</p><p>To test dolphin hearing, we set up microphones and cameras to record dolphin behavior as we played drone noise in the air. We analyzed the responses to each noise – such as how many dolphins looked at the speaker – and used these as a proxy for their ability to hear the sounds.</p>
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Robodolphin doesn't look like a real dolphin, but it doesn't need to in order to train our drone pilots. C.J. Barton / Oklahoma State University / CC BY-ND<p>To build robodolphin, we worked with dolphins trained to "chuff" or sneeze on command to measure spray characteristics. We used high-speed photography to see the dolphins' breath as it moved through the air. Then we conducted high resolution CT scans of a dolphin head and 3D-printed a replica of a nasal passage.</p><p>Now, we have a complete robodolphin and are tweaking its sprays to be nearly identical to the real thing. This will allow us to determine how close we need to get to collect the samples, and therefore, how quiet our drone needs to be.</p>
The replica dolphin blowhole was designed from a scan of a real blowhole passage, and the spray it produces closely matches the real thing. Alvin Ngo, Mitch Ford and CJ Barton / Oklahoma State University / CC BY-ND
A Bit of Practice, Then Into the Wild<p>In the next few months, we will test flights over robodolphin with existing drones to determine the timing and strategy for collection. From there, we will fabricate a low-noise drone that can fly fast enough and with sufficient maneuverability to capture samples from wild dolphins. Like a video game, we will use the visual field data to develop approach trajectories to stay in the visual blindspots.</p><p>We plan to test our drones on a truck-mounted robodolphin moving down a runway, then using a boat to simulate realistic conditions. The next steps will involve ocean testing with dolphins trained for open ocean swimming. These tests will determine if our devices can catch and hold the hormones as the drone flies back to a researcher's boat.</p><p>Finally, we will deploy the system to collect data on wild dolphins. Our first goal is to test resident dolphins – animals that live on the coasts and deal directly with boat and oil industry noise – which will allow us to learn more about stress resulting from human impacts.</p><p>Those samples are a way off, but if all goes well we will have a specially built drone capable of flying long distances and capturing samples undetected in a few years. The samples collected will allow researchers to do better science with impact on the animals they study.</p>
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Sunscreen pollution is accelerating the demise of coral reefs globally by causing permanent DNA damage to coral. gonzalo martinez / iStock / Getty Images Plus
On July 29, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed into law a controversial bill prohibiting local governments from banning certain types of sunscreens.
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By Kelli McGrane
Oat milk is popping up at coffee shops and grocery stores alike, quickly becoming one of the trendiest plant-based milks.
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"Emissions from pyrotechnic displays are composed of numerous organic compounds as well as metals," a new study reports. Nodar Chernishev / EyeEm / Getty Images
Fireworks have taken a lot of heat recently. In South Dakota, fire experts have said President Trump's plan to hold a fireworks show is dangerous and public health experts have criticized the lack of plans to enforce mask wearing or social distancing. Now, a new study shows that shooting off fireworks at home may expose you and your family to dangerous levels of lead, copper and other toxins.
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By Ashutosh Pandey
Billions worth of valuable metals such as gold, silver and copper were dumped or burned last year as electronic waste produced globally jumped to a record 53.6 million tons (Mt), or 7.3 kilogram per person, a UN report showed on Thursday.
Environmental and Health Hazard<p>Experts say e-waste, which is now the world's fastest-growing domestic waste stream, poses serious environmental and health risks.</p><p>Simply throwing away electronic items without ensuring they get properly recycled leads to the loss of key materials such as iron, copper and gold, which can otherwise be recovered and used as primary raw materials to make new equipment, thereby reducing greenhouse gas emissions from extraction and refinement of raw materials.</p><p>Refrigerants found in electronic equipment such as fridge and air conditioners also contribute to global warming. A total of 98 Mt of CO2-equivalents, or about 0.3% of global energy-related emissions, were released into the atmosphere in 2019 from discarded refrigerators and ACs that were not recycled properly, the report said.</p><p>E-waste contains several toxic additives or hazardous substances, such as mercury and brominated flame retardants (BFR), and simply burning it or throwing it away could lead to serious health issues. Several studies have linked unregulated recycling of e-waste to adverse birth outcomes like stillbirth and premature birth, damages to the human brain or nervous system and in some cases hearing loss and heart troubles.</p><p>"Informal and improper e-waste recycling is a major emerging hazard silently affecting our health and that of future generations. One in four children are dying from avoidable environmental exposures," said Maria Neira, director of the Environment, Climate Change and Health Department at the World Health Organization. "One in four children could be saved, if we take action to protect their health and ensure a safe environment."</p>
Europe Leads the Way<p>While most of the e-waste was generated in Asia (24.9 Mt) in 2019, Europe led the charts on a per person basis with 16.2 kg per capita, the report said.</p><p>But the continent also recorded the <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/the-eu-declares-war-on-e-waste/a-51108790" target="_blank">highest documented formal e-waste collection and recycling</a> rate at 42.5%, still below its target of 65%. Europe was well ahead of the others on this front. Asia ranked second with 11.7%.</p><p>The authors said while more that 70% of the world's population was covered by some form of e-waste policy or laws, not much was being done toward implementation and enforcement of the regulations to encourage the take-up of a collection and recycling infrastructure due to lack of investment and political motivation.</p><p>"You have to think about new economic systems," said Kühr.</p><p>One approach could be that consumers no longer buy the products, but only the service they offer. The device would remain the property of the maker, who would then have an interest in offering his customers the best service and the necessary equipment. The maker would also be interested in designing his products in such a way that they are easier to repair and easier to recycle, Kühr said.</p>
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