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Drilling and fracking near hospitals and schools has become a hot topic in several US states since this "new millennium" style of high volume slick water hydraulic fracturing bears little resemblance to the fracking that took place in the second half of the 20th Century. The intensity and industrial nature of these multiple gas well fracks leads to well-founded concerns about air pollution and other issues critical to sensitive populations like the elderly, infirmed or young. Children are much more vulnerable to air pollution issues.

The Face of Fracking

living close to drilling


Fracking near schools

DEP fails to keep drillers a healthy distance from children

August 24, 2015
Op-Ed by Jerome Paulson

Pennsylvania just released its final revisions to the rules on oil and gas surface operations. Unfortunately, the regulations from the Department of Environmental Protection do not include any meaningful protections for vulnerable populations such as children.

This is of concern in many areas of Pennsylvania and none more so than the Mars Area School District in Butler County. There is a proposal to install six unconventional gas wells a half-mile from the campus where the district’s 3,250 students, preschool through grade 12, attend classes.

DEP should impose, at minimum, a one-mile setback between the boundary of an oil and gas facility and boundary of a school property.

There is no evidence that hydraulic fracturing, also called fracking, can operate without risks to human health. The corporations doing the work have never done the research to try to minimize air and water pollution from equipment. Any claims of safety are based on wishful thinking. There is also no scientifically definitive setback distance that would prevent health and safety impacts from oil and gas infrastructure.

What’s more, a growing body of peer-reviewed science provides significant evidence of the public health risks of shale oil and gas development. Unhealthy levels of benzene and formaldehyde have been found near compressor stations. Research has shown that some women in high-density drilling areas with greater than 125 wells per mile had an elevated risk of births with congenital heart disease and neural tube defects.

Researchers found in a recent study that in areas closest to active wells, levels of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, or PAHs, which are linked with lung and skin cancer as well as respiratory effects, exceeded the Environmental Protection Agency’s acceptable risk level. The risk level decreased only by 30 percent 3.2 miles away from an active well. A survey in Pennsylvania showed that the closer residents live to gas wells and facilities, the more they reported specific health symptoms like headaches and sore throats.

Research in Colorado showed that residents living less than or equal to one-half mile away from gas wells are at higher risk of respiratory, neurological and other health impacts and have a higher lifetime risk for cancer than those who live at farther distances. Two times as many residents in Pennsylvania living less than 1 kilometer (0.6 of a mile) from gas wells have reported more respiratory symptoms per person than those living 1 to 2 km or more than 2 km away.

Air pollution occurs during every stage of unconventional gas development. In an analysis of all chemicals used in unconventional gas extraction processes (such as fracking), 37 percent were found to evaporate easily and get into the air that people breathe. Of these volatile chemicals, 81 percent were found to have adverse effects on the brain and central nervous system. Chemicals in the air have the ability to be inhaled and be absorbed directly into the bloodstream, bypassing the body’s detoxifying mechanisms of the liver.

Children are especially vulnerable to environmental hazards and can have very different health outcomes than adults who are similarly exposed in the same locations. Children breathe more air and drink more water per unit of body weight than adults do and often put objects and their hands into their mouths more frequently than adults. If the air or water is contaminated, children will receive a higher dose than adults and are more vulnerable to exposures. Additionally, children are less able to process environmental chemicals and their young ages provide longer durations for diseases with long latency periods, such as leukemia, to develop.

Additional studies are underway and the scientific community is now playing catch-up with the rapid growth of this industry. We are only now just beginning to understand the implications of the shale gas industry for the environment and human health. Until better data emerge on the potential risks, precautionary measures are warranted with regard to the permitting of new wells close to schools.

Given the accidents like explosions and fires that have occurred, and documented water and air pollution from oil and gas infrastructure, policymakers, such as DEP, should exercise the utmost caution when making decisions that could impact children and other vulnerable populations.

Decision-making around gas extraction should not hinge on demonstrating harm after the fact. It should hinge on demonstrating no risk of harm before the fact.

Footnote: Jerome Paulson is immediate past chair of the executive committee, Council on Environmental Health, American Academy of Pediatrics. He has worked with the Protect Our Children Coalition, a Western Pennsylvania advocacy group committed to protecting schoolchildren from the health risks of shale gas drilling and infrastructure.

One of many well pads near an elementary school 
drilling near Claysville Elementary School



Below we'll take a look at a Marcellus Shale fracking operation directly across from Fort Cherry Junior-Senior high school in western Pennsylvania, near the town of McDonald. This December 2011 frac job took place on the 8 Chiarelli wells across from the school, approximately 2,500 feet away (approximately 1/2-mile). A second active drilling pad, the Aloe Family Unit, can be seen at the top right of the photo below:  

Fort Cherry Junior Senior High School

Another safety concern around schools, in addition to common air pollutants, is the explosive levels of gas that can occur during fracking. Air monitoring was done a few miles from this school during a similar hydraulic fracturing operation at the Drugmand site and there were alarming results.

Hydraulic fracturing of the Chiarelli Unit

December 10, 2011
Chiarelli Pad hydraulic fracturing in progress

Children & Clean Air
Source: Clean Air Council

Trends in Children's Health:
Drastic increases in the rates of chronic childhood illnesses are sweeping the United States and rest of the world.

While the causes of these increases are not fully understood, they ultimately lie in an interaction of genetics and the environment. The rate of change is of such a high level that it would be unreasonable to attribute it to a major shift in human genetics. More likely, genetic predispositions are coming to light due to increased pressure from the environmental factors. The majority of evidence indicates that now more than ever, the environment is influencing our health and the health of our children.

· Nearly 5 million children (7%) in the United States suffer from asthma. The rate of prevalence increased by 74% and the number of children dying from asthma increased threefold between 1979 and 1996.

· Childhood cancer rates have risen dramatically, with cancers of the Central Nervous System increasing by 25%, incidences of Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia increasing by 20%, and an average increase in all cancer rates of 10%.

Children Are Different From Adults!
Children are both exposed to more pollution and are more susceptible to the effects of this exposure.

· Increased Exposure—Children are exposed to more pollution per unit of body weight than adults are.

· Children breathe, eat, and drink more for their body weight than adults. This increase percentage of intake means that the amount of pollution in our air, food, and water has a much more significant effect on children's health than it does on the health of an adult.

· Children's behavior also increases their exposure to environmental toxicants. Children touch more things and put more things in their mouths as a way of exploring their environment. Also, their close proximity to the ground and car exhaust pipes increases their exposure.

· Increased Susceptibility—Children's bodies react differently to environmental toxicants than adults' do.

· Children are often less able to metabolize and remove foreign compounds than adults. In addition, children's bodies often absorb these compounds at a higher rate than adults do.

· Children's immune systems are still immature and are often not developed enough to provide adequate protection from environmental toxins.

· Children's bodies are still developing, and exposure to environmental toxins has an impact on how this development progresses. Developmental problems can manifest themselves as physical deficits and disorders as well as disorders of the central nervous system resulting in psychological deficits.

· Because children are still at the beginning of their lives, the effects of environmental toxicants have more time to accumulate and manifest themselves.

Air Pollution
Common air pollutants, such as ozone, particulate matter, nitrogen oxides, and sulfur dioxides are associated with increased respiratory illnesses and symptoms, aggravation of asthma, and decreases in lung function in children. One recent study found an association between particulate air pollution and an increased risk of infant mortality.

In 1995, about 18 million children under the age of 10 lived in areas with air quality that did not meet federal standards. Parents can protect children by checking air pollution levels regularly where they live, limiting children's outdoor exercise when air pollution levels are high, and ensuring that the child's school is prepared for smog episodes.

Reforms needed to protect children include improving standards for air pollutants, particularly by implementing the newly revised ozone and particulate matter standards, and adopting more aggressive programs to control air pollution.

Wastewater impoundment with rust colored fluids
Fluids from this Carter Impoundment were pumped 2-miles
through temporary plastic pipelines to the Chiarelli frac site

True Vertical Depth: 6,403 feet
Total Water Volume: 2,583,110 gallons

Source of this chemical list: FracFocus
Chemical descriptions: Multiple sources
37% HCL Cleans perforation HCL 7647-01-0
CI-100 Corrosion Inhibitor Methanol 67-56-1

Methanol has a high toxicity in humans. If ingested the median lethal dose is typically 4 fl oz.

    Propargyl Alcohol 107-19-7

Propargyl alcohol is a primary skin irritant and a severe eye and mucous membrane irritant. It is toxic by ingestion, inhalation, and skin adsorption. The oral LD50 for rats is 70 mg/kg (WARNING LABEL – Moderate Toxicity).

MC B-8520 Antibacterial Agent 4,4-Dimethyloxazolidine 51200-87-4

Dimethyloxazolidine has been placed in Toxicity Category I for its effects as a severe eye irritant. 4,4-Dimethyloxazolidine is slightly to moderately toxic to birds on an acute basis and slightly toxic on a subacute basis. It demonstrates slight toxicity to both cold and warm freshwater fish, and is slightly toxic to freshwater invertebrates on an acute basis.

    3,4,4-Trimethyloxazolodine 75673-43-7
    2-Amino-2-methyl-1-propanol 124-68-5

AMP (2-Amino-2-methyl-1-propanol) is a skin irritant, severe eye irritant, and toxic by ingestion. Causes severe irritation. Inhalation may be fatal as a result of spasm, inflammation, and edema of laryns and bronchi, chemical pneumonitis, and pulmonary edema. Symptoms of exposure may include burning sensation, coughing, wheezing, laryngitis, shortness of breath, headache, nausea and vomiting.

    Formaldehyde Amine 56652-26-7
MC B-8650 Antibacterial Agent Glutaraldehyde 111-30-8

The following health effects have been reported in hospital workers exposed to glutaraldehyde: Throat and lung irritation; Asthma, asthma-like symptoms, and breathing difficulty; Nose irritation, sneezing, and wheezing; Nosebleed; Burning eyes and conjunctivitis; Rash-contact and/or allergic dermatitis; Staining of the hands (brownish or tan); Hives; Headaches and Nausea.

    Methanol 67-56-1

Methanol has a high toxicity in humans. If ingested the median lethal dose is typically 4 fl oz.

Chemicals in Natural Gas Operations


Air Quality
In the Shadow of the Marcellus Boom (PDF offsite)

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