United States: Fracking waste too toxic for toxic waste dump

A truck delivering waste from a fracking operation in Greene County, Pennsylvania, on April 19 was quarantined after being rejected by a hazardous waste landfill as too dangerous.

The truck was carrying highly radioactive radium-226 in concentrations 86 times higher than allowed per Environmental Protection Agency limits.

After being quarantined at the landfill, the truck was sent back to the fracking site, which is operated by Rice Energy.

Radium, it should be noted, is a routine by-product of fracking — the fossil fuel extraction method behind the ongoing “natural gas boom”.

“Radium is a well known contaminant in fracking operations,” writes Jeff McMahon at Forbes. John Poister, a spokesperson for Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection, said “the material in question is radium 226, which is what we expect from shale drill cuttings”.

Radium-226 is linked to various forms of cancer and other diseases. “Radium-226 causes bone sarcomas and carcinomas of the paranasal sinuses and mastoid process,” according to the National Institutes of Health’s Toxicology Data Network.

“External exposure to radium’s gamma radiation increases the risk of cancer to varying degrees in all tissues and organs” the EPA says.

As well as radium, fracking involves the use of hundreds of other toxic chemicals. Many of these chemicals are known carcinogens, such as benzene and formaldehyde, which are subsequently found in local air and water supplies.

One 2011 study linked 25% of the known chemicals used in fracking with cancers and mutations; another study last year by the US Geological Survey identified toxic chemicals found in local water supplies in Wyoming linked to nearby fracking operations.

This year, further reports have detailed the risks of silicosis (a fatal lung disease) faced by well operators due to high levels of silica dust in fracking operations.

There remains, however, scant legal requirements in the US for the industry to disclose which chemicals are used, or how much they are used.

There currently exist no federally mandated reporting requirements for disclosing the chemicals used in fracking, due largely to the infamous “Halliburton Loophole” — a law enacted in 2005 (at the behest of then vice-president Dick Cheney) that remains unchanged under President Barack Obama.

The law exempts the natural gas industry from regulatory and reporting requirements otherwise mandated under the Safe Drinking Water Act.

The natural gas industry has also played an active role in suppressing public knowledge about the health risks of the chemicals they routinely use — including lobbying successfully to ban doctors from freely discussing with their patients the links between symptoms and the chemicals used in nearby fracking operations.

The  New England Journal of Medicine  last year accused the natural gas industry of “infringing on the doctor-patient relationship”.

Rice Energy, the operator of the fracking site in Greene County, operates 59 fracking wells throughout Pennsylvania.

Not to be deterred by the rejection of its highly radioactive, carcinogenic waste by-product, however, the company is applying for a new permit to allow the disposal of more radioactive materials in Pennsylvania, Forbes magazine said.

The “natural gas boom” proceeds.

[Reprinted from Planet Save.]

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