EMBARGOED UNTIL APRIL 16, 2014 at 12:01 A.M. EASTERN
Seth B. Shonkoff, PhD, MPH
Executive Director, PSE (PSE Healthy Energy for Healthy Energy)
Visiting Scholar, University of California, Berkeley
Researchers from the scientific organization PSE (PSE Healthy Energy for Healthy Energy), the University of California, Berkeley and Weill Cornell Medical College conducted the first systematic literature review of public health effects and routes of exposure of contaminants associated with shale and tight gas development (i.e., fracking). The research shows that many of the studies reviewed identified associations between the development of shale and tight gas and elevated levels of toxic compounds in the environment. The researchers note that while the scientific literature on this modern type of natural gas development has grown recently, more epidemiological studies are needed to investigate public health impacts.
The review, "Environmental Public Health Dimensions of Shale and Tight Gas Development" was published online in the peer-reviewed journal, Environmental Health Perspectives on April 16 at 12:01 a.m. Eastern.
The review reports that a number of compounds known to be toxic to humans are associated with shale and tight gas development, and have been found in elevated concentrations in air, surface waters, and aquifers. Studies in some regions where development is taking place (e.g., western Colorado) indicate that the closer a population is to active shale gas development, the more likely it is to be exposed to air pollutants associated with the processes including but not limited to benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, xylene, ozone, and diesel particulate matter. Some evidence suggests that living close to active development may increase the risk of certain birth defects, including congenital heart defects and neural tube defects.
The literature also suggests that improper treatment of wastewater (flowback/produced waters) is associated with contamination of surface water with chemicals from fracturing fluids and naturally occurring substances such as radium-226, arsenic, and barium. Other studies suggest that aquifers in closer proximity to active shale and tight gas development are at more risk of methane contamination than those further from active development.
The review includes a link to a comprehensive online citation database of the peer-reviewed body of literature on shale and tight oil development, including all of the health studies noted in the review. The database will be continually updated: http://psehealthyenergy.org/site/view/1180.
There is evidence that shale and tight gas development is associated with pollution that is known to increase public health risks. Additionally, there is much more that we don't know. Scientific investigations are hampered by limitations on monitoring, reporting, and disclosure requirements of compounds and processes associated with oil and gas development. - Seth B. Shonkoff, PhD, MPH, Executive Director, PSE Healthy Energy for Healthy Energy
Recently, there has been tremendous growth in the environmental sciences and engineering literature on shale and tight gas development. However, the epidemiologic literature on population health impacts resulting from environmental exposure remains in its infancy. - Jake Hays, MA, Program Director, PSE Healthy Energy for Healthy Energy
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