I sent this to the conservative weekly magazine, The Spectator, but they declined to publish it, so in the spirit of openness and debate I thought I would post it here.
The Editor, letters, The Spectator
18 May 2013
18 May 2013
Along with other pro-fracking advocates, Peter Lilley, dismisses concerns over fracking as "scare stories." ("The only way is shale," 11 May) (http://www.spectator.co.uk/features/8905731/the-only-way-is-shale/)
But one aspect of fracking that remains unaddressed in the UK is the prospective human health hazard of using fracked shale gas. Conservative Heath minister Anna Soubry, hardly a spreader of scare stories, told Labour MP Paul Flynn earlier this year that:
" The Health Protection Agency [now Public Health England] is currently completing an initial assessment of the potential areas of public health impact that might arise from the environmental aspects of hydraulic fracturing ("fracking"). The study, which considers a range of natural and man-made chemicals and contaminants, including radon gas, is currently in draft with an intention to publish it in the near future. The review will include a study on how radon levels in homes may be affected." (http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201213/cmhansrd/cm130123/text/130123w0003.htm#13012376000019)
It remains unpublished to date. Mr Flynn has since asked when it will be published, but has not yet received an answer.
PHE should be concerned to evaluate the potential risks of radon gas being pumped into citizens’ homes as part of the shale gas stream. Unless the gas is stored for several days to allow the radon's radioactivity to naturally reduce, this is potentially very dangerous.
Radon is unquestionably the leading cause of lung cancer in non-smokers. Initially radon released from its virtually sealed underground locations will be in monatomic suspension, but then it accretes onto dust particles, pipework, etc, and some of it may remain suspended in the gas and come out in our cookers. The current concern about how much radon is likely to be piped into people's kitchens was spurred by a report last year by Dr Marvin Resnikoff, of Radioactive Waste Management Associates, now based in Vermont, but for many years based in Brooklyn, New York.
Dr Resnikoff estimated radon levels from the Marcellus gas field - the nearest one being exploited to New York - as up to 70 times the average. The United States Geological Survey (USGS) last autumn released a report measuring actual levels of radon at a handful of Marcellus wells, having been apparently upset by Dr Resnikoff’s charge that USGS had been a “tool” of industry” in downplaying possible hazards.
This is too important a debate for mere name calling: what is needed is transparency and full openness in publication of analyses, whether they suite the pro-or anti-fracking interests respectively. The public surely demand the unadulterated facts. Public Health England's forthcoming report is eagerly awaited..
Dr David Lowry
Environmental policy and research consultant, Stoneleigh