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EcoWatch is a community of experts publishing quality, science-based content on environmental issues, causes, and solutions for a healthier planet and life.
Researchers still don't know the true impact of microplastics on human health. filadendron / Getty Images

By Mark Patrick Taylor, Neda Sharifi Soltani and Scott P. Wilson

Australians are eating and inhaling significant numbers of tiny plastics at home, our new research shows.

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EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
A monarch butterfly sits on milkweed. Mara Koenig / USFWS

By Kenny Stancil

The Center for Food Safety on Wednesday denounced the Biden administration's Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for arguing that Roundup should remain on U.S. shelves for an undisclosed period of time even after admitting that the Trump-era review of glyphosate — the key ingredient found in Roundup, the world's most widely used herbicide — was flawed and requires a do-over.

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andresr / E+ / Getty Images

From bamboo utensils to bamboo toothbrushes, household products made from bamboo are becoming more popular every year. If you have allergies, neck pain or wake up constantly to flip your pillow to the cold side, bamboo pillows have the potential to help you sleep peacefully through the night.

In this article, we'll explain the benefits of bamboo pillows and how they can help you on your journey to better sleep. We'll also recommend a few of the best pillows on the market so you can choose new bedding that's right for you.

Read More Show Less
Chemical plants and factories line the area known as 'Cancer Alley' along the Louisiana coast, as seen on October 15, 2013. Giles Clarke / Getty Images

By Brett Wilkins

Citing the imperative to "protect the residents and natural resources of St. James Parish and to prevent public health and environmental harms across our jurisdictions," attorneys general from four states and the District of Columbia on Monday sent a letter to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers asking it to thoroughly evaluate the adverse impacts of Formosa Plastics' massive proposed petrochemical complex in Louisiana's "Cancer Alley."

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Fire in one part of a community can contaminate the water system used by other residents, as Santa Rosa, California, discovered after the Tubbs Fire. Justin Sullivan / Getty Images

By Andrew J. Whelton

More than 58,000 fires scorched the United States last year, and 2021 is on track to be even drier. What many people don't realize is that these wildfires can do lasting damage beyond the reach of the flames – they can contaminate entire drinking water systems with carcinogens that last for months after the blaze. That water flows to homes, contaminating the plumbing, too.

Over the past four years, wildfires have contaminated drinking water distribution networks and building plumbing for more than 240,000 people.

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A new UK study links eating meat with increased risks for heart disease, diabetes and more. nata_zhekova / Getty Images

The World Health Organization has determined that red meat probably causes colorectal cancer in humans and that processed meat is carcinogenic to humans. But are there other health risks of meat consumption?

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Bell peppers were added to the EWG's 20201 "Dirty Dozen" list. Michelet-密是力 (talk)

Are you worried about getting a serving of pesticides with your produce?

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A helicopter sprays pesticide on a crop field in California. Jeff Foott / Photodisc / Getty Images

A new study adds to the evidence that pesticides harm children's health.

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A cemetery is surrounded by chemical plants in Baton Rouge, Louisiana on Oct. 15, 2013. Giles Clarke / Getty Images

By Brett Wilkins

Calling a planned petrochemical manufacturing complex in Louisiana's "Cancer Alley" a "textbook case of environmental racism," 175 organizations from around the world sent a letter to financial institutions Tuesday urging them not to fund, underwrite, or invest in the project, which could cost up to $12 billion.

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Pump jacks draw crude oil from the Inglewood Oil Field near Los Angeles, California, on March 9, 2020. DAVID MCNEW / AFP via Getty Images

More than 1,600 gallons of oil have spilled in the Inglewood Oil Field — the largest urban oil field in the country, where more than a million people live within five miles of its boundaries, the Sierra Club wrote in a statement on Wednesday.

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A dispenser with "Reef friendly" sunscreen can be seen on the wall at the surfjack Hotel in Honolulu. Christina Horsten / Picture Alliance / Getty Images

Hawaii is on its way to banning more reef-damaging sunscreens.

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A sign calls for solving California's water crisis in the San Joaquin Valley on April 2, 2021. Frederic J. Brown / AFP / Getty Images

By Tara Lohan

A familiar scene has returned to California: drought. Two counties are currently under emergency declarations, and the rest of the state could follow.

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A pump jack and surface water at an oil well and fracking site in the San Joaquin Valley, California. Citizens of the Planet / Education Images / Universal Images Group / Getty Images

What is fracking?

Fracking is a process of blasting water, chemicals and frac sand deep into the earth to break up sedimentary rock and access natural gas and crude oil deposits. The fracking industry, which has sought to promote the practice as safe and controlled, has preferred the term "hydraulic fracturing."

Fracking emerged as an unconventional, "relatively new" and extremely popular technique only about 20 years ago in the U.S., after advances in technology gave it an unprecedented ability to identify and extract massive amounts of resources efficiently.

Fracking is one of the most important environmental issues today, and it's a prime example of how a new technology that offers immediate economic and political benefits can outpace (often less obvious) environmental and health concerns.

Why is fracking so controversial?

Modern fracking emerged so quickly, faster than its impacts were understood. Just as importantly, once scientists, health experts and the public started to object with evidence of harm it was causing, business and government succeeded in perpetuating a message of uncertainty, that more research was necessary, further enabling the "full speed ahead" fracking juggernaut.

How does fracking impact the environment?

Fracking's supporters have pushed an environmental angle, insisting that natural gas can be a "bridge fuel," a cheaper, cleaner option than coal before we have a large-scale transition to renewable energy. This claim has some merit, as natural gas does emit much less carbon dioxide than coal or oil. However, it is still a fossil fuel, adding harmful emissions while the climate crisis worsens. Moreover, fracking wells leak methane, a greenhouse gas more than 25 times more potent than CO2.

Water

In order to break up rock formations one to two miles deep, a fracking operation requires millions of gallons amount of water. After it's used, the resulting wastewater, which contains chemicals is pumped back into injection wells, sent to treatment plants, or can be dangerously dumped or spilled.

In 2016 the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released a report skewed friendly to industry in its language: Hydraulic Fracturing for Oil and Gas: Impacts from the Hydraulic Fracturing Water Cycle on Drinking Water Resources in the United States. The EPA acknowledged that drinking water contamination was possible, but ultimately came to this conclusion: "Data gaps and uncertainties limited EPA's ability to fully assess the potential impacts on drinking water resources locally and nationally."

Earthquakes

According to the U.S. Geologic Survey, disposal of wastewater has caused an increase in earthquakes in the central U.S. Seismologists have reported that fracking's initial blasting process can trigger earthquakes.

Air Pollution

In addition to methane, fracking releases many toxic contaminants into the air. EPA has acknowledged the public health threat, but a lack of urgent political pressure has sidelined the agency into advising on ways to control and reduce, rather than eliminate, the danger.

Toxic Chemicals

Fracking fluids contain unknown chemicals and known carcinogens such as benzene. Fracking companies haven't been required to disclose their proprietary formulas, however. This is yet another example of how uncertainty serves as an enabling force. The EPA has identified more than 1,000 different chemicals used in fracking fluid.

Wildlife

Fracking can destroy wildlife habitats, pollute rivers and fisheries, poison birds, and use up water supplies that animals need to survive.

How does fracking affect the economy?

The fracking boom made the U.S. the world's largest producer of oil and gas, reducing its energy imports from 26% to less than 4%. It has lowered oil and gas prices and created thousands of industry jobs. While fracking companies profited greatly at first, as prices dropped their margins collapsed. Many are now going bankrupt.

How is fracking regulated?

Congress has enabled the oil and gas industry to be exempt from such regulations as the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, and the Safe Drinking Water Act.

Fracking surged during the Obama administration, which moved to protect water from fracking on federal lands in 2015. Subsequently, the Trump administration sought to roll back protections and expand fracking on federal lands.

Key Examples of Fracking in the United States

Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania's Marcellus Shale is the source for about 40% of shale gas production in the U.S.

New York

While the Marcellus Shale also runs through New York, the state has banned fracking.

Texas

Texas produces more crude oil than any other state.

North Dakota

The Bakken Shale in North Dakota has been one of the main sites for the fracking boom and subsequent bust, leaving behind extensive environmental damage.

A recent report found that all 50 states could provide 100% (or even greater) in-state renewable energy.

Other Countries

Outside the U.S., only Canada, China and Argentina have commercial fracking operations. A UN report in 2018 said that other countries were "highly unlikely" to produce at such a large scale as the U.S., due to political and cultural factors, and existing infrastructure.

The Future of Fracking

While renewables were considered a solution for "peak oil" only a decade ago, fracking changed the terms of the debate, with a new focus from environmentalists to "keep it in the ground" starting in 2015.

The Biden administration now stands at a pivotal moment in the climate crisis. Biden's stance on fracking is not yet entirely clear, but he has rejoined the Paris agreement and appears to take climate seriously. At the same time, he is sympathetic to workers in fossil fuel industries, was vice president during the fracking boom years under Obama, and may be more inclined to seek a gradual transition than one fast enough to help solve the crisis.

WildEarth Guardians

EcoWatch is a community of experts publishing quality, science-based content on environmental issues, causes, and solutions for a healthier planet and life.
Researchers still don't know the true impact of microplastics on human health. filadendron / Getty Images

By Mark Patrick Taylor, Neda Sharifi Soltani and Scott P. Wilson

Australians are eating and inhaling significant numbers of tiny plastics at home, our new research shows.

Read More Show Less
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
A monarch butterfly sits on milkweed. Mara Koenig / USFWS

By Kenny Stancil

The Center for Food Safety on Wednesday denounced the Biden administration's Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for arguing that Roundup should remain on U.S. shelves for an undisclosed period of time even after admitting that the Trump-era review of glyphosate — the key ingredient found in Roundup, the world's most widely used herbicide — was flawed and requires a do-over.

Read More Show Less
andresr / E+ / Getty Images

From bamboo utensils to bamboo toothbrushes, household products made from bamboo are becoming more popular every year. If you have allergies, neck pain or wake up constantly to flip your pillow to the cold side, bamboo pillows have the potential to help you sleep peacefully through the night.

In this article, we'll explain the benefits of bamboo pillows and how they can help you on your journey to better sleep. We'll also recommend a few of the best pillows on the market so you can choose new bedding that's right for you.

Read More Show Less
Chemical plants and factories line the area known as 'Cancer Alley' along the Louisiana coast, as seen on October 15, 2013. Giles Clarke / Getty Images

By Brett Wilkins

Citing the imperative to "protect the residents and natural resources of St. James Parish and to prevent public health and environmental harms across our jurisdictions," attorneys general from four states and the District of Columbia on Monday sent a letter to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers asking it to thoroughly evaluate the adverse impacts of Formosa Plastics' massive proposed petrochemical complex in Louisiana's "Cancer Alley."

Read More Show Less
Trending
Fire in one part of a community can contaminate the water system used by other residents, as Santa Rosa, California, discovered after the Tubbs Fire. Justin Sullivan / Getty Images

By Andrew J. Whelton

More than 58,000 fires scorched the United States last year, and 2021 is on track to be even drier. What many people don't realize is that these wildfires can do lasting damage beyond the reach of the flames – they can contaminate entire drinking water systems with carcinogens that last for months after the blaze. That water flows to homes, contaminating the plumbing, too.

Over the past four years, wildfires have contaminated drinking water distribution networks and building plumbing for more than 240,000 people.

Read More Show Less
A new UK study links eating meat with increased risks for heart disease, diabetes and more. nata_zhekova / Getty Images

The World Health Organization has determined that red meat probably causes colorectal cancer in humans and that processed meat is carcinogenic to humans. But are there other health risks of meat consumption?

Read More Show Less