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WHY PHE MUST PRODUCE A NEW REPORT ON POTENTIAL HEATH IMPACTS OF FRACKING, AND WHY UNTIL RISKS HAVE BEEN PROPERLY ASSESSED THERE SHOULD BE AN IMMEDIATE BAN ON SHALE GAS EXPLORATION AND DEVELOPMENT

27th August 2016



US STUDIES

Over the last year we have seen the publication of numerous reports linking fracking in the US with health issues.

The latest (August 2016 from the John Hopkins Institute) finds a link between fracking, i.e. unconventional gas development in Pennsylvania, and migraine headaches, nose and sinus problems and fatigue symptoms. The report did not establish cause and effect, but coincidentally this appeared in the same week as a University of Texas study reported on air contamination from fracking sites. Further, in the same week a new report from the University of Missouri concluded that exposure to fracking chemicals might impair human development, after it was linked to adverse reproductive and developmental outcomes in mice. This follows an previous study by US and Chinese researchers published in Toxicology and Applied Pharmacology which found fracking chemicals also induced tumours in mice and had an effect on human bronchial epithelial cells causing malignant changes.

Earlier this year the JHI also published a new report which established a link between fracking areas and asthma symptoms. Last year the same institute also established a link between premature births and fracking in Pennsylvania.

However it is not just one institute which is publishing findings linking fracking with health issues. Last year researchers from Penn University and Columbia University studied a database containing over 198,000 hospitalisation records, taken from the North-Eastern Pennsylvania counties of Bradford, Susquehanna and Wayne. Wayne acted as a control county as the proximity to water sources means that Wayne has no fracking activity. The research found a correlation between fracking density and hospitalisation of patients with cardiovascular problems.

Moreover, around the same time (June 2015) the US association of Physicians Scientists and Engineers produced an analysis of the peer-reviewed scientific literature, 2009-2015.

They reported that around 80% of peer-reviewed articles on fracking’s impact had been produced since January 2013, and over half since January 2014. They said “What this tells us is that the scientific community is only now beginning to better understand the environmental and public health implications of unconventional gas development.” The research reviewed “findings among scientific studies and other peer reviewed papers that assessed associations between shale and tight gas development and air, water, and public health hazards, risks, and impacts. For each topic we found that the majority of original research indicated substantial risks from shale and/or tight gas development on the outcome of interest.”

And, of course, many reports have emerged since June 2015, including the samples referred to above.

Even by 2015 the evidence had mounted sufficiently to cause New York State to ban fracking. The final report on fracking and health was published in June 2015, which nailed the ban proposed in December 2014. The NY Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner said “High-volume hydraulic fracturing poses significant adverse impacts to land, air, water, natural resources and potential significant public health impacts that cannot be adequately mitigated.”

AND IN THE UK?

With a densely-populated country like the UK we could expect health impacts from shale gas production on any developed scale to approach or exceed levels as found in the US in fracking areas. Yet in the UK we have had no attention paid by the government to the mushrooming of the adverse US reports.

The UK government relies on an outdated report of limited scope published by Public Health England. They encourage local planning authorities to seek this organisation’s advice when evaluating what an operator should provide as a full health impact assessment as part of a planning application. We have yet to see the industry oblige. And the PHE report is woefully lacking.

It only considered the narrow topics of chemical and radioactive pollutants. It was already out-of-date by the time it was published (June 2014), as it relied on dated US material, and ignored new finding published months before the PHE’s issuing of its final report, which was largely unchanged since the draft of October 2013. And of course the New York report, published after seven years of research, was not available to PHE when they came out with the effective recommendation that it was safe to frack provided good practice was followed.

PHE ignored all potential health issues due to Climate Change. This is unacceptable. They also ignored any impacts due to noise or light pollution, traffic and potential health impact of stress. They admitted that scientific research had large gaps, and that a total reconsideration would be required if the UK were to pursue shale gas on an industrial basis, where study of cumulative effects would be required.

PHE are therefore in no position to properly advise local planning authorities on health impact of fracking.

In Lancashire it was left to the County Council’s own Director of Public Health to assess health impact. He advised that there was no regulatory system in place, in that health outcomes are not part of the regulatory bodies’ agenda. He could provide no assurance of baseline or any ongoing monitoring of health.

A UK body which has felt obliged to fill the gap left by PHE is Medact, a body of health professionals. They have produced two reports on shale gas and health. The first, published in March 2015, called for an immediate moratorium on fracking due to serious risks to public health. The report highlighted the limitations of PHE’s report on fracking, including the fact that it was narrow in scope and failed to critically assess the adequacy and reliability of the regulatory system. The view was confirmed that climate change is the biggest long-term threat to global public health.

An open letter published in the BMJ said “The arguments against fracking on public health and ecological grounds are overwhelming. There are clear grounds for adopting the precautionary principle and prohibiting fracking.”

In 2016 Medact published an update. They pointed out this was needed because “over 350 academic papers of various sorts have (since) been published, examining the impacts of high volume hydraulic fracturing (HVHF) for shale gas on air and water quality, health, climate change, social wellbeing, economics, noise and light pollution, and seismic events.”

The conclusion of the new report was, because of the clear potential for negative health impacts, “Medact’s view that the UK should abandon its policy to encourage shale gas production remains unchanged.”

SUMMARY AND CONCLUSION

There is now adequate evidence linking fracking with adverse health outcomes to justify the government accepting that the Public Health England report is and was inadequate. They should fund, as called for by their advisers, new research studies, and in particular a complete revision to Public Health England’s 2014 report.

Until that report is produced there should be no fracking in the UK. If there are likely to be significant health risks associated with developing a UK onshore shale gas industry then exploration is futile. The ban on fracking should be complete, ie including stopping any production or exploration.

Petition to ban fracking without health assessment
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REPORT LINKS

PHE 2014
PHE 1
PHE 2

Medact 2015
Medact 2015 report
Medact 2016
Medact 2016 report

PSE Report
PSE Report

New York bans fracking
High-Volume Hydraulic Fracturing - NYS report
NY Bans Fracking

Unconventional Gas and Oil Drilling Is Associated with Increased Hospital Utilization Rates.
Fracking hikes hospitalisation
Our FD take

Migraines etc
JHI Report
media report 1
media coverage 2

Air contamination near fracking sites
Air contamination near fracking sites
media coverage

Fertility Impairment
Fertility Impairment

Tumours
media report


Petition to ban fracking without health assessment
Sign now!