“Horizontal hydrofracking for natural gas in the Marcellus Shale region of New York State has the potential to result in the production of large amounts of waste materials containing Radium-226 and Radium-228 in both solid and liquid mediums.
Importantly, the type of radioactive material found in the Marcellus Shale and brought to the surface by horizontal hydrofracking is the type that is particularly long-lived, and could easily bio-accumulate over time and deliver a dangerous radiation dose to potentially millions of people long after the drilling is over,
Radioactivity in the environment, especially the presence of the known carcinogen radium, poses a potentially significant threat to human health,
Therefore, any activity that has the potential to increase that exposure must be carefully analyzed prior to its commencement so that the risks can be fully understood.”
The report lays out “potential pathways of the radiation” through the air, water and soil. Through soil it would get into crops and animals eaten by people.
Radium causes cancer in people largely because it is treated as calcium by the body and becomes deposited in bones. It can mutate bones cells causing cancer and also impact on bone marrow. It can cause aplastic anemia—an inability of bone marrow to produce sufficient new cells to replenish blood cells. Marie Curie, who discovered radium in 1893 and felt comfortable physically handling it, died of aplastic anemia.
“Radioactive materials and chemical wastes do not just go away when they are released into the environment. They remain active and potentially lethal, and can show up years later in unexpected places. They bio-accumulate in the food chain, eventually reaching humans.”
Under the fracking plan for New York State, “there are insufficient precautions for monitoring potential pathways or to even know what is being released into the environment,” it states.
Doug Wood, associate director of Grassroots Environmental Education, which is based in Port Washington, New York, and also editor of the report, commented as it was issued: “Once radioactive material comes out of the ground along with the gas, the problem is what to do with it. The radioactivity lasts for thousands of years, and it is virtually impossible to eliminate or mitigate. Sooner or later, it’s going to end up in our environment and eventually our food chain. It’s a problem with no good solution—and the DEC is unequipped to handle it.”
As for “various disposal methods…contemplated” by the agency “for the thousands of tons of radioactive waste expected to be produced by fracking,” Wood said that “none…adequately protect New Yorkers from eventual exposure to this radioactive material. Spread it on the ground and it will become airborne with dust or wash off into surface waters; dilute it before discharge into rivers and it will raise radiation levels in those rivers for everyone downstream; bury it underground and it will eventually find its way into someone’s drinking water. No matter how hard you try, you can’t put the radioactive genie back into the bottle.”
Furthermore, said Wood in an interview, in releasing radioactive radium from the ground, “a terrible burden would be placed on everybody that comes after us. As a moral issue, we must not burden future generations with this. We must say no to fracking—and implement the use of sustainable forms of energy that don’t kill.”
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Photograph of fracking pools by eggrole, under Creative Commons licence on Flickr.