Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Symptoms of Well Contamination

World-renowned environmental scientist Dr. Theo Colburn and her team tested samples of recovered fracking fluid from wells and were able to identify nearly 600 chemicals deemed "proprieatary" and therefore not open to the public. Dr. Colburn states that these chemicals, including benzene, toluene and glycol ethers, may lead to many of the symptoms people who live near gas wells and have potentially contaminated wells are suffering from. My mother-in-law, who lives in Uniontown, PA, is one of those people. Below is information about the symptoms of benzene and glycol ether exposure and specific symtoms of peripheral neuropathy, which Colburn says is a definitive symptom of exposure to fracking chemicals. If you suspect that you or a loved one is suffering the effects of air or water pollution from a gas well, there are blood tests available through your doctor for benzene, toluene, and many other fracking byproducts. You can also find water-testing companies in your area that have specific tests to evaluate drilling contamination. They aren't cheap, but what is the price for peace of mind?

Glycol Ether Effects- From EPA.gov
Acute Effects:
  • Acute exposure to high levels of the glycol ethers in humans results in narcosis, pulmonary edema, and severe liver and kidney damage. (1)
  • Acute exposure to lower levels of the glycol ethers in humans causes conjunctivitis, upper respiratory tract irritation, headache, nausea, and temporary corneal clouding. (1)
  • Animal studies have reported adverse effects on weight gain, peripheral blood counts, bone marrow, and lymphoid tissues from acute, inhalation exposure to 2-methoxyethanol. (2)
  • Acute animal tests in rats have shown 2-methoxyethanol to have moderate acute toxicity from inhalation and oral exposures. (3)
Chronic Effects (Noncancer):
  • Chronic exposure to the glycol ethers in humans results in fatigue, lethargy, nausea, anorexia, tremor, and anemia. (1,5,7)
  • Animal studies have reported anemia, reduced body weight gain, and irritation of the eyes and nose from inhalation exposure. (4)
  • Anemia and effects to the thymus, spleen, bone marrow, liver, and kidneys were reported in animals following oral exposure to the glycol ethers. (4,10)
  • EPA has not established a Reference Dose (RfD) for 2-methoxyethanol, 2-ethoxyethanol, or 2-butoxyethanol. (5,7,8)

Benzene Effects - from CDC.gov

Immediate signs and symptoms of exposure to benzene
  • People who breathe in high levels of benzene may develop the following signs and symptoms within minutes to several hours:
    • Drowsiness
    • Dizziness
    • Rapid or irregular heartbeat
    • Headaches
    • Tremors
    • Confusion
    • Unconsciousness
    • Death (at very high levels)
  • Eating foods or drinking beverages containing high levels of benzene can cause the following symptoms within minutes to several hours:
    • Vomiting
    • Irritation of the stomach
    • Dizziness
    • Sleepiness
    • Convulsions
    • Rapid or irregular heartbeat
    • Death (at very high levels)
  • If a person vomits because of swallowing foods or beverages containing benzene, the vomit could be sucked into the lungs and cause breathing problems and coughing.
  • Direct exposure of the eyes, skin, or lungs to benzene can cause tissue injury and irritation.
  • Showing these signs and symptoms does not necessarily mean that a person has been exposed to benzene.
    Long-term health effects of exposure to benzene
  • The major effect of benzene from long-term exposure is on the blood. (Long-term exposure means exposure of a year or more.) Benzene causes harmful effects on the bone marrow and can cause a decrease in red blood cells, leading to anemia. It can also cause excessive bleeding and can affect the immune system, increasing the chance for infection.
  • Some women who breathed high levels of benzene for many months had irregular menstrual periods and a decrease in the size of their ovaries. It is not known whether benzene exposure affects the developing fetus in pregnant women or fertility in men.
  • Animal studies have shown low birth weights, delayed bone formation, and bone marrow damage when pregnant animals breathed benzene.
  • The Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) has determined that benzene causes cancer in humans. Long-term exposure to high levels of benzene in the air can cause leukemia, cancer of the blood-forming organs.

Effects of Toluene Exposure - from EPA.gov
Acute Effects:
  • The CNS is the primary target organ for toluene toxicity in both humans and animals for acute and chronic exposures. CNS dysfunction (which is often reversible) and narcosis have been frequently observed in humans acutely exposed to low or moderate levels of toluene by inhalation; symptoms include fatigue, sleepiness, headaches, and nausea. CNS depression and death have occurred at higher levels of exposure. (1)
  • Cardiac arrhythmia has also been reported in humans acutely exposed to toluene. (1)
  • Following the ingestion of toluene a person died from a severe depression of the CNS. Constriction and necrosis of myocardial fibers, swollen liver, congestion and hemorrhage of the lungs, and tubular kidney necrosis were also reported. (1)
  • Acute exposure of animals to toluene has been reported to affect the CNS as well as to decrease resistance to respiratory infection. (1)
  • Acute animal tests in rats and mice have demonstrated toluene to have low acute toxicity by inhalation or oral exposure. (1)
Chronic Effects (Noncancer):
  • CNS depression has been reported to occur in chronic abusers exposed to high levels of toluene.  Symptoms include drowsiness, ataxia, tremors, cerebral atrophy, nystagmus (involuntary eye movements), and impaired speech, hearing, and vision.  Neurobehavioral effects have been observed in occupationally exposed workers. (1,2)
  • Effects on the CNS have also been observed in studies of animals chronically exposed by inhalation. (1,2)
  • Chronic inhalation exposure of humans to toluene causes irritation of the upper respiratory tract and eyes, sore throat, dizziness, headache, and difficulty with sleep. (1,2)
  • Inflammation and degeneration of the nasal and respiratory epithelium and pulmonary lesions have been observed in rats and mice chronically exposed to high levels of toluene by inhalation. (1)
  • Mild effects on the kidneys and liver have been reported in solvent abusers chronically exposed to toluene vapor.  However, these studies are confounded by probable exposure to multiple solvents. (1,2)
  • Slight adverse effects on the liver, kidneys, and lung and high-frequency hearing loss have been reported in some chronic inhalation studies of rodents. 

Peripheral Neuropathy from NIH.gov

Symptoms depend on the nerve that is damaged. Symptoms also depend on whether the damage affects one nerve, several nerves, or the whole body.
Tingling or burning in the arms and legs may be an early sign of nerve damage. These feelings often start in your toes and feet. You may have deep pain. This often happens in the feet and legs.
You may lose feeling in your legs and arms. Because of this, you may not notice when you step on something sharp. You may not notice when touch something that is too hot or cold. You may not know when you have a small blister or sore on your feet.
Damage to the nerves can make it harder to control muscles. It can also cause weakness. You may notice problems moving a part of your body. You may fall because your legs buckle. You may trip over your toes.
Doing tasks such as buttoning a shirt may be harder. You may also notice your muscles twitch or cramp. Your muscles may become smaller.
People with nerve damage may have problems digesting food. You may feel full or bloated and have heartburn after eating only a little food. Sometimes you may vomit food that has not been digested well. You may have either loose stools are hard stools. Some people have problems swallowing.
Damage to the nerves to your heart may cause you to feel lightheaded, or faint, when you stand up.
Angina is the warning chest pain for heart disease and heart attack. Nerve damage may "hide" this warning sign. You should learn other warning signs of a heart attack. They are sudden fatigue, sweating, shortness of breath, nausea, and vomiting.
Sexual problems. Men may have problems with erections. Women may have trouble with vaginal dryness or orgasm.
Some people may not be able to tell when their blood sugar gets too low.
Bladder problems. You may leak urine. You may not be able to tell when your bladder is full. Some people are not able to empty their bladder.
You may sweat too much. This may happen when the temperature is cool, when you are at rest, or at other unusual times.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Hydrofracking in Ohio

The Appalachian mixed mesophytic forests that span much of the Southeastern United States are all that remain of the broadleaf forests that at one time covered most of North America. These forests compose one of the most biodiverse temperate regions in the world, but they are severely reduced in size, degraded, and fragmented due to human development (Ricketts, 1999). In Ohio, the remaining forest is only in the southeast portion of the state. The Wayne National Forest comprises the majority of this forest area. As the map of the Marcellus shale shows, the shale lies directly under the southeastern forests of Ohio.
Image courtesy of geology.com

New Ohio governor John Kasich has proposed H.B. 133 that would allow oil and gas drilling on state-owned land such as state and national parks. That would mean that the Wayne National Forest, one of the few remnants of the already fragmented and degraded Appalachian forest, would become even more degraded and fragmented. H.B. 133 encapsulates the hydrofracking issue very well. The drilling is seen as a huge economic boost for a state that is suffering greatly from the current recession, and in the short-term it could be just that. However, the long-term effects of destroying forest and potentially polluting ground water and air must be considered.  In previous posts, I have listed numerous articles citing the environmental impact of natural gas mining, particularly water contamination, but here is a New York Times - produced video of actual people living near gas wells in Colorado who give a firsthand account of the health impacts of the process. I for one do not want to see this happen to my family and friends. That’s why I created this blog, to get the word out and inform people about the dangers of hydrofracking.

National environmental organizations such as The Sierra Club and local groups such as The Buckeye Forest Council oppose drilling of any kind in state and national parks. Hydrofracking is potentially even more dangerous that traditional drilling because of the potential for contaminated drinking water. If you would like to become involved in the fight against hydrofracking, please visit these sites and find out more about what we can do.

Works Cited
Ricketts, T. H. (1999). Terrestrial ecoregions of North America:  a conservation assessment. Washington, D.C.: Island Press.

Laws, Acts, and Legislation. (n.d.). 129th Ohio General Assembly. Retrieved March 21, 2011, from http://www.legislature.state.oh.us/bills.cfm?ID=125_HB_133

Natural Gas and Polluted Air - Video Library - The New York Times. (n.d.). Video Library Home Page - The New York Times. Retrieved March 21, 2011, from http://video.nytimes.com/video/2011/02/26/us/100000000650773/natgas.html?ref=us

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

What is hydrofracking?

The process of hydraulic fracturing of shale to release natural gas is not new. It has been used in some form since the late 70s. However, the newest incarnation of hydrofracking employs a horizontal fracturing method that allows gas to be harvested from previously unproductive areas such as the Barnett Shale in Texas and the Marcellus Shale along the east coast and Midwest. The video below gives an excellent description of the process. Basically, water mixed with particulate matter (usually sand) and additional chemicals used to assist fracturing are pumped at extremely high pressure into a horizontally-drilled hole in the shale. The pressurized water creates thousands of cracks in the shale, and the particulate keeps the cracks open to allow the gas to escape and be harvested. The water and residual particulate are pumped back out of the well, and the gas can then be harvested. (Hydraulic Fracturing, geology.com) The link here is for an interactive representation of how hydrofracking works, as well as the environmental risks involved at each step.

Environmental concerns arise because the fractures in the shale may extend into sources of drinking water, contaminating the drinking water with radiation and harmful chemicals. Another issue is that the water retrieved from the gas wells must be treated or recycled, and very few water treatment facilities are equipped to treat radiation in  water. As a result, potentially dangerous water is being dumped into rivers and streams, allowing for further contamination of drinking water and negative impact on wildlife. (Urbina, 2011)

Hydrofracking Overview

Works Cited
Hydraulic Fracturing of Oil & Gas Wells Drilled in Shale. (n.d.). Geology.com - Earth Science News, Maps, Dictionary, Articles, Jobs. Retrieved March 15, 2011, from http://geology.com/articles/hydraulic-fracturing/

URBINA, I. (2011, February 26). Regulation Lax as Gas Wells€™ Tainted Water Hits Rivers - NYTimes.com. The New York Times - Breaking News, World News & Multimedia. Retrieved March 8, 2011, from http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/27/us/27gas.html?_r=3&scp=5&sq=natural%20gas

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Environmental Impact Overview

Another interactive piece by the New York Times shows the potential impact on the environment from everything that goes into hydrofracking for gas mining. It points out that acres of trees need to be cleared, there is increased heavy machine traffic, the wastewater may run off into streams and wells, and the waste water is often not properly treated before being dumped into rivers and streams, among other dangers.
NYT Interactive- Fracking

GRONDAHL, M., MARSH, B., & ROBERTS, G. (2011, March 1). Chemicals and Toxic Materials in Hydrofracking - Interactive Graphic - NYTimes.com. The New York Times - Breaking News, World News & Multimedia. Retrieved March 9, 2011, from http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2011/03/01/us/chemicals-and-toxic-materials-in-hydrofracking.html?ref=drillingdown

What's the problem with fracking?

Natural gas has shown promise as a greener alternative to coal and oil, as it emits less sulfur dioxide, mercury, nitrogen oxide, and carbon dioxide, but if burned inefficiently it may emit more methane, which is a potent greenhouse gas. (EPA, 2007) The reserve of natural gas in the Marcellus Shale in particular, which lays deep in the Earth's crust and stretches up the East Coast from Virginia to New York, and spreads into Ohio and parts of Tennesee and Kentucky, is believed to be vast enough that it could reduce the US dependence on foreign oil. One recent estimate states that there as much as 50 trillion cubic feet of gas could be recovered from the Marcellus Shale (only 10% of what is trapped there!), which has a commercial value of about 1 trillion dollars! (Englander and Lash, 2008). A new method of natural gas mining called hydraulic fractionation or "hydrofracking" makes that previously unattainable gas available for use. Many environmental groups have celebrated natural gas as a suitable fuel source to meet energy needs while truly renewable energy sources are developed and made commercially available. However, as more research comes to light about the environmental impact of hydrofracking, more and more people are wondering if it is worth the risk. (Urbina, 2011)

In fact, the New York Times article cited for this information goes on to unveil hundreds of research documents showing the potential for contamination from fracking. The first I would like to call attention to is an interactive map of testing done by the New York Times on well water near fracking sites. The map shows the range of contamination and number of Pennsylvania wells with levels above government safety levels of radium (42 wells), uranium (4 wells), benzene (41 wells), and gross alpha, which is a measure of the radiation produced by radium and uranium (128 wells). (White, Park, Urbina, and Palmer; 2011)
NYT - Interactive Hydrofracking Map

Works Cited

Natural Gas | Clean Energy | US EPA. (2007, December 28).US Environmental Protection Agency. Retrieved March 9, 2011, from   http://www.epa.gov/cleanenergy/energy-and-you/affect/natural-gas.html
Urbina, I. (2011, February 26). Regulation Lax as Gas Wells Tainted Water Hits Rivers - NYTimes.com. The New York Times - Breaking News, World News & Multimedia. Retrieved March 8, 2011, from http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/27/us/27gas.html?_r=3&scp=5&sq=natural%20gas&st=cse
White, J., Park, H., Urbina, I., & Palmer, G. (2011, February 26). Toxic Contamination From Natural Gas Wells - Interactive Feature - NYTimes.com. The New York Times - Breaking News, World News & Multimedia. Retrieved March 9, 2011, from http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2011/02/27/us/natural-gas-map.html?ref=us