by Karl Grossman
It would seem a far-off threat: hydraulic fracturing for gas — known as fracking. There are plans for extensive fracking in upstate New York including the Catskills. But it’s a small world. And there is concern about Long Island being on the receiving end of some of the toxic impacts of fracking.
A bill unanimously passed the Suffolk Legislature in March to prevent water contaminated by fracking from being sent to any county sewage plant. The measure noted that chemicals which are “known carcinogens” are used in fracking and the plants “discharge treated water into” waterways some of which “feed into Long Island’s sole source aquifer.” Thus Suffolk “should not accept toxic byproducts of hydraulic fracturing into county sewage treatment facilities.” It was signed into law days later by County Executive Steve Bellone. Nassau County has enacted similar legislation. The state Department of Environmental Conservation last year identified sewage plants in both counties capable of taking fracking-polluted wastewater.
A new bill is now before the Suffolk Legislature “prohibiting the use of hydraulic fracturing brine on county property or roadways.” This measure notes that “some businesses which perform hydraulic fracturing would like to dispose of such brine by providing it to local governments as a road de-icing agent for use in the winter.”
Meanwhile, a Long Island-based environmental organization is out with a report detailing how the cancer threat from fracking can come from, in addition to chemicals, radioactive material unleashed in fracking. Fracking is proposed in the vast Marcellus Shale region upstate, seen as loaded with gas in the shale deep below. But, says the report from Grassroots Environmental Education in Port Washington, there are also large amounts of radioactive material captured in the Marcellus Shale. This would be brought to the surface in the fracking process in which chemicals and massive amounts of water are sent under high pressure into the ground. The radioactive material includes Radium-226 with a half-life of 1,600 years; thus it remains radioactive for between 16,000 and 32,000 years.
“Horizontal hydrofracking for natural gas in the Marcellus Shale region of New York State has the potential to result in the production of large amounts of waste materials containing Radium-226 and Radium-228 in both solid and liquid mediums,” states the report by E. Ivan White, for 30 years a staff scientist for the Congressionally-chartered National Council on Radiation Protection. “Importantly, the type of radioactive material found in the Marcellus Shale and brought to the surface by horizontal hydrofracking is the type that is particularly long-lived, and could easily bio-accumulate over time and deliver a dangerous radiation dose to potentially millions of people long after the drilling is over.”
Radium causes cancer in people largely because it is treated as calcium by the body and becomes deposited in bones, mutating bone cells and affecting bone marrow.
Doug Wood, associate director of Grassroots Environmental Education and editor of the report, comments: “Once radioactive material comes out of the ground along with the gas, the problem is what to do with it. The radioactivity lasts for thousands of years….A terrible burden would be placed on everybody that comes after us. As a moral issue, we must not burden future generations with this. We must say no to fracking — and implement the use of sustainable forms of energy that don’t kill.”
The potentially high levels of radioactivity coming from the extensive fracking planned upstate is discussed in another report by Grassroots Environmental Education that cites a study last year by the U.S. Geological Survey which found the wastewater from 11 existing “vertical” fracking wells upstate had “levels of radium…more than 1,000 fold the EPA maximum contaminant level for drinking water.” It was noted that there would be more radium released from “horizontal” fracking wells because of their “extended length.”
The prospect of unleashing radium, a silvery-white metal, has a parallel in uranium mining on the Navajo Nation. It began to provide fuel for atomic bombs during the Manhattan Project. The Navajos weren’t told the uranium, yellow in color, causes cancer, which became epidemic among miners and then spread through Navajo land from piles of contaminated uranium tailings. The Navajos gave the uranium a name: leetso or yellow monster. Left in the ground, it would do no harm, but taken from the earth, it has caused disease and death, why the Navajo Nation outlawed uranium mining in 2005.
Similarly, radium, a silvery-white monster, should be left in the earth, not unleashed, with fracking, to inflict disease and death on people today and many, many generations into the future.