Health risks demand a moratorium on fracking

Fracking in New York State. [2014, Les Stone]
A rapidly growing body of research demonstrates that hydraulic fracturing poses dangers not only to the environment but to people’s health. Once contamination occurs and people become ill, it’s incredibly difficult and costly to remedy, and often impossible to reverse.

Last week, Concerned Health Professionals of New York released a major new compilation – a compendium – of the scientific, medical and media findings demonstrating the risks and harms of fracking (read it online at

Based on the results of hundreds of studies nationwide where fracking already exists, it’s clear that permitting fracking in New York could harm the air, water, health and safety of residents statewide.

In January, for instance, an Associated Press investigation analyzed state records from Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia and Texas that documented many cases where fracking activities are linked to water contamination. Such records build on multiple studies from Duke University finding risks of nearby groundwater contamination from fracking and a University of Missouri School of Medicine study documenting dangerous hormone-disrupting chemicals in ground and surface water near fracking sites.

The fracking process also has given rise to concerns about increased air pollution. A Colorado School of Public Health study found air pollutants near fracking sites at levels that can raise risks for cancer, neurological deficits and respiratory problems. It’s noteworthy that the American Lung Association in New York also supports a moratorium on fracking in New York. In Utah, fracking has grown rapidly in the past few years, and the once immaculately clean Uintah Basin now ranks as one of the 25 most-polluted counties in the country. There is a continuing investigation into the cause of elevated rates of stillbirth and infant death in that region.

The significant body of compelling findings is why I recently joined more than 250 medical organizations and health professionals in urging Gov. Andrew Cuomo and acting Department of Health Commissioner Howard Zucker to enact at least a three- to five-year moratorium on fracking in New York to allow time for the results of continuing scientific and medical research to emerge. New Yorkers should not be placed in the crosshairs of these public health threats. We need to prioritize the health of all of our residents. It’s inexcusable to consider a pilot project that brings fracking into any part of our state, putting some of our residents immediately in harm’s way and releasing contaminants that do not stop at municipal boundaries drawn on a map.

The Assembly listened to scientists and medical experts June 16 by overwhelmingly passing a three-year moratorium on fracking in New York. Unfortunately, the state Senate refused to schedule a vote. Ultimately, however, the responsibility rests with Gov. Cuomo, who can – and must – protect New Yorkers by implementing a three- to five-year moratorium.
Though a growing number of studies point to serious potential health risks related to fracking, there is quite a lot we still don’t know. The U.S. Government Accountability Office reports that drilling and fracking clearly pose “inherent environmental and public health risks” and that the full extent of those risks is not yet known. Countless prominent researchers have called for more studies, especially of the cumulative, long-term health impacts.

The gas industry has been secretive with information – limiting disclosure and keeping crucial data out of researchers’ hands. As a result, the pace of scientific research has been impeded. Yet, results of a number of important studies tracking short- and long-term health effects of fracking are due to come out in the next few years.

That is why my colleagues and I think a three- to five-year moratorium – at minimum – is prudent.

Clean water, clean air and a safe home and community are not privileges; they are rights. It’s up to Gov. Cuomo to ensure the health of all New Yorkers and enact a statewide moratorium on fracking.

[Editor’s note: This article first appeared on 8/02/2014 in the Poughkeepsie Journal. It is reposted by permission of the author.]