[Editor's note: Today, Sandra Steingraber—Illinois native, biologist and acclaimed environmental advocate—and Jeff Biggers—Southern Illinois native and author—will be in Springfield, IL at 1 p.m. today, Wednesday, May 29, for a day of advocacy. They will meet outside Gov. Quinn’s office at the Capitol Building. Stay tuned to EcoWatch for post coverage.]
The world is not just watching the fracking bill debacle unfold at the Illinois state capitol.
As the Illinois General Assembly votes this week on the state's increasingly suspect fracking bill, residents affected by similar operations in Pennsylvania and frac-sand mining in Wisconsin, Iowa and Minnesota took the extraordinary step today of releasing unprecedented letters warning of a "public health disaster" in the making, and called on Illinois lawmakers to set aside the flawed bill and "swiftly enact a moratorium."
"We have learned the hard way that regulations—no matter how strict they sound on paper—do not provide adequate protection to human health or property, especially in tough economic times when the state agencies charged with enforcing the regulations are understaffed and underfunded," states the letter signed by impacted Pennsylvania residents, released publicly this morning, along with links to a eye-opening List of the Harmed health registry of fracking-related afflictions.
As a powerful response to last week's House Executive Committee hearing on fracking bill SB 1715, where every member on the committee made the breathtaking admission of having never visited a fracking site, the letter challenges exaggerated promises of jobs and revenue, and provides a firsthand look at the growing health, workplace and environmental costs of Pennsylvania communities "transformed into toxic industrial zones" over the past five years.
Speaking on behalf of "communities situated atop vast deposits of silica sand, which are a necessary ingredient in the fracking process," neighboring residents in Wisconsin, Iowa and Minnesota also underscored the need for Illinois lawmakers to reconsider the rushed fracking bill in their separate letter:
We are suffering greatly from the industrial strip-mining and processing of silica sand that has been the direct consequence of the ongoing shale gas boom in this nation. Our communities, our land, and our health are in the process of being literally destroyed by it. We beg you to declare a moratorium on fracking in Illinois, as we are sure that, should you move forward with this regulatory bill and open your state to large-scale fracking, the demand for frac-sand will increase further, along with the price—and thus along with the pressure on our own political leaders to escalate further the devastating practice of frac sand mining and processing.
Key themes: Recklessness and liability.
Especially for Illinois Gov. Quinn and Attorney General Madigan, whose apparent backroom brokering of the fracking regulation bill without scientists or health expert involvement has already triggered statewide outrage and placed the controversial issue of fracking into next year's gubernatorial race—just in time for cash-strapped counties to struggle "with infrastructure maintenance, much less improvements, expansions or hirings needed for schools and services once drillers and others associated with fracking start moving in," according to a recent Chicago Tribune review of fracking tax gain.
Illinois, as the Pennsylvania residents note, is not alone in taking the fracking leap. But given its longer rap sheet, a recent Pennsylvania poll showed overwhelming support for a moratorium. New York awaits a decision, as well.
"A well may end up being poisoned a year from now—and then what?" Gov. Cuomo (D-NY) told reporters last month, as he awaits a state health assessment on fracking. "I don't want the liability, frankly, and I don't have the knowledge."
In an editorial on Sunday, the L.A. Times scolded Gov. Brown's (D-CA) administration and handed over their support for a fracking moratorium as "the prudent course."
That same message was echoed by the Albany Times Union two months ago: "Whether you feel that natural gas fracking is the economic salvation of New York or an environmental disaster waiting to happen, there is one indisputable fact about it: The science is not in. Not by a long shot. And that's why a moratorium in New York makes sense."
Admonishing Illinois lawmakers to "enact a moratorium in order to take the time to visit areas with fracking, bring scientists and medical experts into the process, and undertake an environmental and public health study," the besieged Pennsylvania residents didn't pull any punches on their warnings: "If you allow fracking to go forward as planned, you will bring to your state the same horrific experiences we have suffered in Pennsylvania.
The full letter is below.
May 28, 2013
Illinois General Assembly Governor Pat Quinn Attorney General Lisa Madigan State House Springfield, IL 62706
Dear Governor Quinn, Attorney General Madigan, and Members of the Illinois General Assembly,
We write today to urge you not to allow high-volume horizontal fracturing ('fracking') for oil and gas in Illinois. We, the undersigned residents of Pennsylvania, are among the many victims of fracking. Informed by extensive first-hand experience with the oil and gas industry and suffering from the impacts of fracking, we implore you with the greatest sincerity to protect the health and safety of the people of Illinois and swiftly enact a moratorium on fracking. We have learned the hard way that regulations--no matter how strict they sound on paper--do not provide adequate protection to human health or property, especially in tough economic times when the state agencies charged with enforcing the regulations are understaffed and underfunded. Also, regulations cannot prevent accidents, and this is an industry prone to accidents of an especially frightening nature and whose effects are not temporary.
The oil and gas industry promises that fracking is safe and that it will create jobs and bring your state riches, but Pennsylvania's experience in the past five years tells a very different story. In short, water contamination has been widespread; our air has been polluted; countless individuals and families have been sickened; farms have been devastated, cattle have died, and our pristine streams and rivers have turned up dead fish; only a fraction of the promised jobs and revenue for the state have come to fruition; and our communities have been transformed into toxic industrial zones with 24/7 noise, flares, thousands of trucks, and increased crime. What's more, the jobs have made many workers so sick that they can no longer work in the industry.
A week ago, the Scranton Times-Tribune revealed that oil and gas development from fracking damaged the water supplies of at least 161 Pennsylvania homes, farms, churches and businesses between 2008 and the fall of 2012, as indicated by state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) records. The Times-Tribune notes that this number is not comprehensive; an exhaustive analysis was made impossible by DEP's lack of transparency, poor record keeping, potentially inadequate testing procedures, and lack of cooperation with the investigation. Regardless, with around 4,000 wells drilled during that four-year timespan, these 161 cases show how common and extensive water contamination is from fracking operations. These numbers are not surprising given the high rate of well casing failures. By the gas industry and the DEP's own data, well casing failure rate in Pennsylvania is 6.2 percent (rising to 8.9 percent in 2012). Failures occur when the layers of cement and steel that encase the well—providing a barrier between the toxic fracking fluid and freshwater aquifers—are damaged or become corroded. Even with the most careful workmanship cement can shrink, crumble and crack as it ages.
Because the chemicals used in fracking operations are highly toxic, water contamination is a very serious problem. Although the industry blocks attempts to know what chemicals and combinations are used, we know that it is a cocktail whose ingredients are selected from a possible menu of around 600 chemicals. Those include many known carcinogens and endocrine disruptors. They include chemicals such as benzene, toluene, hydrochloric acid and petroleum distillates. In addition to the chemicals used by the industry, the operation releases many hazardous materials from the shale itself, including radium, uranium and radon, arsenic, and mercury. Cows that have consumed water contaminated with used fracking fluid (flowback waste) have quickly died, and land where it has spilled has been scorched.
For us, fracking has been a public health disaster. Victims experience symptoms ranging from headaches, dizziness, burning eyes, sore throats, rashes, hair loss, severe nose bleeds, nausea, blood poisoning, liver damage, intestinal pain, neurological damage, cancers and many more. Many fracking victims who have suffered these health symptoms sign legal agreements that force them to forfeit all rights to speak about what has happened to them in order to settle with multi-national oil and gas corporations. Although many cases have been hidden from the public eye through these non-disclosure agreements, we have compiled a 'List of the Harmed' that now well exceeds 1,000. Our efforts to create this lay registry of healthy problems in an attempt to compensate for the legally enforced silence of our medical community. After extensive lobbying by the oil and gas industry, the Pennsylvania State Legislature passed Act 13, which, among other things, places a gag order on doctors who deal with victims of fracking and who wish information about the possible chemicals to which their patient may have been exposed.
The Southwest Pennsylvania Environmental Health Project (an initiative of medical experts) is working with Pennsylvanians affected by fracking and has concluded that health impacts are serious and that we still do not have enough scientific data to make an informed decision or to be able to claim that ANY regulations will protect public health.
One major, uncontrollable problem is hazardous air pollutants, which are emitted from wellheads themselves, as well as from flares, dehydration devices, compressor stations, and the thousands of diesel trucks that are needed to service each well. Silica dust—a known cause of lung cancer and silicosis—is also a problem in an around drilling and fracking operations. We live with the knowledge that our children are breathing in hazardous air, and are left to wonder what and how severe the ramifications will be in their future.
Our environment has been transformed seemingly overnight from beautiful countryside and farms into toxic, heavy industrial zones. Commutes that used to take 30 minutes now take two hours because of the truck traffic. Many of our schools and playgrounds are blanketed in carcinogenic silica dust. Towering flares light up the night sky, while health-damaging levels of noise penetrate our homes 24/7. Only a small fraction of the promised jobs and revenue have materialized, with most jobs going to out-of-state workers and most revenue accruing to a only few individuals. Meanwhile the community has had to pay for road and bridge damage, increased accidents and need for more emergency workers, and we've had to live with increased crime rates.
In addition to the water contamination, air pollution, industrialized communities, increased crime rates and ruined farms, we've also experienced countless spills, blowouts and disasters. Communities have been evacuated because of explosions and uncontrolled leaks and fires.
As we have experienced the horrors of fracking firsthand for years, we have also carefully followed the industry in other parts of the country and watched the science that has emerged. We have followed what is happening in Illinois with great dismay. We are certain that your proposed regulations will not protect the health of Illinois residents, your farms, communities, environment, and everything that makes Illinois special. Please, do not make this mistake.
If you allow fracking to go forward as planned, you will bring to your state the same horrific experiences we have suffered in Pennsylvania. The oil and gas industry cannot and must not be trusted. We implore you to enact a moratorium in order to take the time to visit areas with fracking, bring scientists and medical experts into the process, and undertake an environmental and public health study. This is the only responsible course of action, and far too much is at risk to do otherwise. We would be glad to speak with you, and we invite you to our homes and communities to see fracking and its impacts first-hand.
Speaking on behalf of a broad network of communities, sincerely,
Ron Gulla, Hickory, PA
Adam Headley, Smithfield, PA
David Headley, Smithfield, PA
Grant Headley, Smithfield, PA
Linda Headley, Smithfield, PA
Ray Kemble, Dimock, PA
Jenny Lisak, Punxsutawney, PA
Matt Manning, Montrose, PA
Tammy Manning, Montrose, PA
Randy Moyer, Portage, PA
Vera Scroggins, Silver Lake Township, PA
Craig L. Stevens, Silver Lake Township, PA
Visit EcoWatch’s FRACKING page for more related news on this topic.
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By Bob Jacobs
Hanako, a female Asian elephant, lived in a tiny concrete enclosure at Japan's Inokashira Park Zoo for more than 60 years, often in chains, with no stimulation. In the wild, elephants live in herds, with close family ties. Hanako was solitary for the last decade of her life.
Hanako, an Asian elephant kept at Japan's Inokashira Park Zoo; and Kiska, an orca that lives at Marineland Canada. One image depicts Kiska's damaged teeth. Elephants in Japan (left image), Ontario Captive Animal Watch (right image), CC BY-ND
Affecting Health and Altering Behavior<p>It is easy to observe the overall health and psychological consequences of life in captivity for these animals. Many captive elephants suffer from arthritis, obesity or skin problems. Both <a href="https://doi.org/10.11609/JoTT.o2620.1826-36" target="_blank">elephants</a> and orcas often have severe dental problems. Captive orcas are plagued by <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jveb.2019.05.005" target="_blank">pneumonia, kidney disease, gastrointestinal illnesses and infections</a>.</p><p>Many animals <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neubiorev.2017.09.010" target="_blank">try to cope</a> with captivity by adopting abnormal behaviors. Some develop "<a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.applanim.2017.05.003" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">stereotypies</a>," which are repetitive, purposeless habits such as constantly bobbing their heads, swaying incessantly or chewing on the bars of their cages. Others, especially big cats, pace their enclosures. Elephants rub or break their tusks.</p>
Changing Brain Structure<p>Neuroscientific research indicates that living in an impoverished, stressful captive environment <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jveb.2019.05.005" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">physically damages the brain</a>. These changes have been documented in many <a href="https://doi.org/10.1002/cne.903270108" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">species</a>, including rodents, rabbits, cats and <a href="https://doi.org/10.1006/nimg.2001.0917" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">humans</a>.</p><p>Although researchers have directly studied some animal brains, most of what we know comes from observing animal behavior, analyzing stress hormone levels in the blood and applying knowledge gained from a half-century of neuroscience research. Laboratory research also suggests that mammals in a zoo or aquarium have compromised brain function.</p>
This illustration shows differences in the brain's cerebral cortex in animals held in impoverished (captive) and enriched (natural) environments. Impoverishment results in thinning of the cortex, a decreased blood supply, less support for neurons and decreased connectivity among neurons. Arnold B. Scheibel, CC BY-ND<p>Subsisting in confined, barren quarters that lack intellectual stimulation or appropriate social contact seems to <a href="https://doi.org/10.1590/S0001-37652001000200006" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">thin the cerebral cortex</a> – the part of the brain involved in voluntary movement and higher cognitive function, including memory, planning and decision-making.</p><p>There are other consequences. Capillaries shrink, depriving the brain of the oxygen-rich blood it needs to survive. Neurons become smaller, and their dendrites – the branches that form connections with other neurons – become less complex, impairing communication within the brain. As a result, the cortical neurons in captive animals <a href="https://doi.org/10.1002/cne.901230110" target="_blank">process information less efficiently</a> than those living in <a href="https://doi.org/10.1002/dev.420020208" target="_blank">enriched, more natural environments</a>.</p>
An actual cortical neuron in a wild African elephant living in its natural habitat compared with a hypothesized cortical neuron from a captive elephant. Bob Jacobs, CC BY-ND<p>Brain health is also affected by living in small quarters that <a href="https://doi.org/10.3233/BPL-160040" target="_blank">don't allow for needed exercise</a>. Physical activity increases the flow of blood to the brain, which requires large amounts of oxygen. Exercise increases the production of new connections and <a href="http://dx.doi.org/10.1126/science.aaw2622" target="_blank">enhances cognitive abilities</a>.</p><p>In their native habits these animals must move to survive, covering great distances to forage or find a mate. Elephants typically travel anywhere from <a href="https://www.elephantsforafrica.org/elephant-facts/#:%7E:text=How%20far%20do%20elephants%20walk,km%20on%20a%20daily%20basis." target="_blank">15 to 120 miles per day</a>. In a zoo, they average <a href="https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0150331" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">three miles daily</a>, often walking back and forth in small enclosures. One free orca studied in Canada swam <a href="https://doi.org/10.1007/s00300-010-0958-x" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">up to 156 miles a day</a>; meanwhile, an average orca tank is about 10,000 times smaller than its <a href="https://www.cascadiaresearch.org/projects/killer-whales/using-dtags-study-acoustics-and-behavior-southern" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">natural home range</a>.</p>
Disrupting Brain Chemistry and Killing Cells<p>Living in enclosures that restrict or prevent normal behavior creates chronic frustration and boredom. In the wild, an animal's stress-response system helps it escape from danger. But captivity traps animals with <a href="https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1215502109" target="_blank">almost no control</a> over their environment.</p><p>These situations foster <a href="https://doi.org/10.1037/rev0000033" target="_blank">learned helplessness</a>, negatively impacting the <a href="https://doi.org/10.1155/2016/6391686" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">hippocampus</a>, which handles memory functions, and the <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neuropharm.2011.02.024" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">amygdala</a>, which processes emotions. Prolonged stress <a href="https://doi.org/10.3109/10253899609001092" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">elevates stress hormones</a> and <a href="https://doi.org/10.1523/JNEUROSCI.10-09-02897.1990" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">damages or even kills neurons</a> in both brain regions. It also disrupts the <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neubiorev.2005.03.021" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">delicate balance of serotonin</a>, a neurotransmitter that stabilizes mood, among other functions.</p><p>In humans, <a href="https://doi.org/10.1006/nimg.2001.0917" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">deprivation</a> can trigger <a href="https://doi.org/10.3389/fnins.2018.00367" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">psychiatric issues</a>, including depression, anxiety, <a href="https://doi.org/10.3389/fnins.2018.00367" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">mood disorders</a> or <a href="https://doi.org/10.1177/1073858409333072" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">post-traumatic stress disorder</a>. <a href="https://doi.org/10.1007/s00429-010-0288-3" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Elephants</a>, <a href="https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pbio.0050139" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">orcas</a> and other animals with large brains are likely to react in similar ways to life in a severely stressful environment.</p>
Damaged Wiring<p>Captivity can damage the brain's complex circuitry, including the basal ganglia. This group of neurons communicates with the cerebral cortex along two networks: a direct pathway that enhances movement and behavior, and an indirect pathway that inhibits them.</p><p>The repetitive, <a href="http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.bbr.2014.05.057" target="_blank">stereotypic behaviors</a> that many animals adopt in captivity are caused by an imbalance of two neurotransmitters, dopamine and <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neubiorev.2010.02.004" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">serotonin</a>. This impairs the indirect pathway's ability to modulate movement, a condition documented in species from chickens, cows, sheep and horses to primates and big cats.</p>
The cerebral cortex, hippocampus and amygdala are physically altered by captivity, along with brain circuitry that involves the basal ganglia. Bob Jacobs, CC BY-ND<p>Evolution has constructed animal brains to be exquisitely responsive to their environment. Those reactions can affect neural function by <a href="https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/311787/behave-by-robert-m-sapolsky/" target="_blank">turning different genes on or off</a>. Living in inappropriate or abusive circumstance alters biochemical processes: It disrupts the synthesis of proteins that build connections between brain cells and the neurotransmitters that facilitate communication among them.</p><p>There is strong evidence that <a href="https://doi.org/10.1523/JNEUROSCI.0577-11.2011" target="_blank">enrichment</a>, social contact and appropriate space in more natural habitats are <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1748-1090.2003.tb02071.x" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">necessary</a> for long-lived animals with large brains such as <a href="https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0152490" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">elephants</a> and <a href="https://doi.org/10.1080/13880292.2017.1309858" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">cetaceans</a>. Better conditions <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5543669/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">reduce disturbing sterotypical behaviors</a>, improve connections in the brain, and <a href="https://doi.org/10.1038/cdd.2009.193" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">trigger neurochemical changes</a> that enhance learning and memory.</p>