This letter was sent to the Guardian, but is unpublished.
Your leader on shale gas (“Not so fast,” 14 January) mainly concentrates on the economics of shale gas extraction. However, there are some significant unresolved environmental issues yet to be evaluated in the UK ,beyond the water table contamination and earthquake concerns which have been widely discussed.
It appears from the prime minister's fast forward support for fracking before MPs on the Liaison committee he is ignorant of some key environmental risks. ("Cameron: opponents of fracking are irrational," 15 January).
One is the concern, which has had high profile coverage in the United States, over radiation risks from fracking, arising from the naturally radon, locked inside the rocks deep underground, is released when the rocks are fractured in the fracking process.
Radon, which is unquestionably the leading cause of lung cancer in non-smokers, according to a report produced by the then office heath advisor, the Health Protection Agency (HPA) in 2009, on Radon and Public Health. (Report of an independent Advisory Group on Ionising Radiation: Docs RCE 11, HPA 2009: www.hpa.org.uk), could be released into kitchens nationwide when the gas is pumped to stoves.
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
As it does not burn with natural methane gas, it could end up damaging the health of gas consumers, unless it is stored for up to four days after extraction, to allow the radioactivity in the radon to die off. Radon has a so-called 'half-life' of 3.8 days.
The HPA has said: “Epidemiological studies have established that exposure to radon is a cause of lung cancer, with a linear dose-response relationship. Exposure to radon is now recognised as the second largest cause of lung cancer in the UK after smoking and analysis for the HPA indicates that about 1100 UK deaths from lung cancer each year are caused by exposure to radon (most caused jointly by radon and smoking”
This concern about how much radon is likely to be piped into people's kitchens was spurred by a report released two years ago this month by Dr Marvin Resnikoff, of Radioactive Waste Management Associates (http://rwma.com/aboutus.htm). 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 in methane extracted by other means.(http://gdacc.org/2012/01/10/radon-in-natural-gas-from-marcellus-shale-by-marvin-resnikoff-radioactive-waste-management-associates/).
The second unreported concern is that greater hormone-disrupting properties have been identified in water located near hydraulic fracturing drilling sites than in areas without drilling, according to research published this month by medical researchers at the University of Missouri. These endocrine disruptors – sometimes called gender-bender chemicals- interfere with the body’s endocrine system, which controls numerous body functions with hormones such as the female hormone estrogen and the male hormone androgen. Exposure to endocrine-disrupting chemicals, such as those studied in the MU research, has been linked by other research to cancer, birth defects and infertility.
More than 700 chemicals are used in the fracking process, and many of them disturb hormone function, according to Dr Susan Nagel, associate professor of obstetrics, gynecology and women’s health at the MU School of Medicine.
The study, Estrogen and Androgen Receptor Activities of Hydraulic Fracturing Chemicals and Surface and Ground Water in a Drilling-Dense Region, was published in the journal Endocrinology.( http://medicine.missouri.edu/news/docs/en.2013-1697.full.pdf)
I would suggest any company planning to invest in fracking do due diligence on their future liabilities before they make final decisions. Caveat emptor.