Monday, 26 January 2015

Fracking's hidden hazard of gender-bender chemicals and radiation risks

Today the influential Environmental Audit Committee published an important report analysis on the environmental impact of fracking. (

Below are the sections commenting on my own written evidence.

37. Dr David Lowry also raised a concern about endocrine disruptors, noting findings of “higher levels of hormone disrupting activity in water located near fracking wells than in areas without drilling” in the United States.85 In a letter to Dr Lowry the Environment Agency stated that it was “aware of the use of endocrine disrupters in some parts of the USA and the potential link to shale gas fracking there … The Environment Agency will not authorise the use of substances hazardous to groundwater in hydraulic fracturing.”86

85 Dr David Lowry (FRA059)
86 Unpublished letter

 Dr David Lowry raised the concern of radiation risk from radon gas which might be released during fracking, referring to Public Health England’s Review of the Potential Public Health Impacts of Exposure to Chemical and Radioactive Pollutants as a Result of Shale Gas Extraction which concluded that there is “the potential for radon gas to be present in natural gas extracted from UK shale."130 The Geological Society noted concerns relating to mobilisation of natural uranium but stated “we are not aware of any evidence of harm.”131 No Hot Air believed that “refusing to access local resources of natural gas and oil … avoids the significant and proven positive health impacts of lowering air pollution from … coal generation.”132 We discussed concerns relating to endocrine disruptors above (paragraph 37).

130 Dr David Lowry (FRA059)
131 The Geological Society (FRA003) para 9
132 No Hot Air (FRA030) para 2

The Environment Agency set out additional requirements:
For a site that is planning to undertake hydraulic fracturing, the following permits and permissions are likely to be required:
• A permit for the management of extractive waste (also known as ‘mining waste’) will always be required where a new well is being drilled and waste needs to be managed.
• A notice under the Water Resources Act to ‘construct a boring for the purposes of searching for or extracting minerals’. The notice will set out details of the well design and construction.
A permit for a radioactive substances activity to manage Naturally Occurring Radioactive Materials from a well that is producing oil or gas.

64. The existing regime is complex and whilst we welcome the Environment Agency and Health and Safety Executive’s joint working strategy, Working together to regulate unconventional oil and gas developments,173 it remains to be seen whether this will ensure effective regulatory co-ordination across all the relevant bodies and departments. A joint strategy concerning the regulation of unconventional oil and gas signed by all relevant national and local departments and agencies must be developed and published.

71. There must be clear and accessible public disclosure on the chemicals used in the exploration and production of shale gas, and the risks they potentially pose.


Written evidence submitted by Dr David Lowry

31 January 2014
There are a number of environmental health impacts the Environmental Audit Committee ought to examine, especially because the issue has been given little attention in the UK fracking debate.
I have set out some details below, along with some supporting articles. This should help ministers develop environmental protection policy re. fracking through being evidence-led, as the Environment Secretary affirmed is the Government  position to the select committee.
On 13 August 2014, a team of experienced research scientists presented the fruit of new research on fracking hazards to the 248th National Meeting of the American Chemical Society (ACS).
Dr William Stringfellow, an environmental engineer at the University of California’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory reported his research team – jointly with the University of the Pacific - had scoured databases and reports to compile a list of substances commonly used in fracking, including gelling agents to thicken the fluids, biocides to keep microbes from growing, sand to prop open tiny cracks in the rocks and compounds to prevent pipe corrosion.
His team found (
that most fracking compounds will require treatment before being released to the environment, and also  identified eight substances, including biocides, as being particularly toxic to mammals.
Also, late in 2013, academic researchers at the University of Missouri, released the results of research they  had conducted into the known chemicals used in fracking. Their research paper, Estrogen and Androgen Receptor Activities of Hydraulic Fracturing Chemicals and Surface and Ground Water in a Drilling-Dense Region, published in the journal Endocrinology.( Volume 155 Issue 3 - March 2014, found higher levels of hormone-disrupting ('gender-bender) activity in water located near fracking wells than in areas without drilling.
Endocrine disruptors 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.
Dr Susan Nagel, associate professor of obstetrics, gynecology and women's health at the MU School of Medicine, put it starkly: ”More than 700 chemicals are used in the fracking process, and many of them disturb hormone function. With fracking on the rise, populations may face greater health risks from increased endocrine-disrupting chemical exposure."
In addition, there is the radiation risk from radon gas released during fracking.
One conclusion in the report published in March this year by the public health watchdog, Public Health England, in their  Review of the Potential Public Health Impacts of Exposure to Chemical and Radioactive Pollutants as a Result of Shale Gas Extraction, states:"If the natural gas delivery point were to be close to the extraction point with a short transit time, radon present in the natural gas would have little time to decay ... there is therefore, the potential for radon gas to be present in natural gas extracted from UK shale."

Radon is unquestionably the leading cause of lung cancer in non-smokers.

Moreover, Professor, James W. Ring, Winslow Professor of Physics Emeritus, Hamilton College in New York State stresses:
"The radon and natural gas coming from the shale mix together and travel together as the gas is piped to customers. This is a serious health hazard, as radon - being a gas - is breathed into the lungs and lodges there to decay, doing damage to the lungʼs tissue and eventually leading to lung cancer."

Hence there is undoubtedly a risk of radon gas being pumped into citizens' homes as part of the shale gas stream. Unless the gas is stored for up to a month to allow the radon's radioactivity to naturally reduce, this is potentially very dangerous.( a half-life of 3.8 days. Using the general rule of thumb of 10 half-lives to decay to 1/1000 of original concentration, that would be 38 days, or roughly one month, depending on how radioactive it was to start.)

The Radon Council, formed in 1990, is an independent non-profit making self-regulatory body for the radon protection industry. Its formation was welcomed in the Interim Report of the Parliamentary Select Committee on Indoor Pollution, which called upon industry to provide a solution to the radon problem. The first objectives were to identify the “cowboy” operators and dubious training courses then in practice.  Later there followed a first edition of a training manual and an agreed Code of Practice for the industry.
It does not seem ministers have read any of the Radon Council’s literature, so gung-ho are they for fracking!
At the end of July the Communities Department published its Revision of building regulation policy on radon. In the impact assessment it explains the reason for the revised regulation is:
“Radon is a naturally occurring radioactive gas linked to lung cancer. Alongside a health and awareness programme and testing and remediation of existing buildings, current Government policy includes targeted intervention through the Building Regulations which requires radon protection in new buildings in areas of elevated radon risk….We intend that the Building Regulations and supporting statutory guidance is clear on current radon risks, and ensures buildings are fitted with proportionate measures to prevent the ingress of radon and thus reduce radon-related lung cancers. ”


It later adds “The respective cumulative risks of lung cancer [from radon exposure] affecting people by age 75 years in the UK at 100 and 200 Bq m-3 are 0.42% and 0.47% for non-smokers and 17% and 19% for continuing smokers.”

It also states boldly: “The chosen policy will maintain a targeted regulatory intervention (aligned to the most up-to-date radon maps), to ensure that all buildings in higher-risk areas incorporate appropriate radon measures.”

In light of this clear precautionary approach, it is odd that all ministers seem to be cheerleading for expanded fracking, despite its possible radon risk.

In January 2012 the European Commission Energy Directorate released a 100-page report on ‘Unconventional Gas in Europe,’ primarily assessing the situation in France, Germany, Poland and Sweden. It has a section on environmental liability, but no mention of radon pollution.

Nuclear waste too

In addition, both RWMA in the US and the internationally respected Norwegian environmental consultancy, DNV (Det Norske Veritas have identified radioactive waste contamination as one problem with fracking, arising from contaminated rock cuttings and cores to which have the potential for exposure to radioactivity on health. Risks relating to NORM (naturally occurring radioactive materials) contaminated downhole and surface equipment should also be considered, both suggest.

(Risk Management of Shale Gas Developments and Operations January 2013 DNV-RP-U301;

The Commission report also records that in Sweden, the handling of radioactive shales requires a permit in accordance with the Radiation Protection Act and the Radiation Protection Ordinance. This is the case when the uranium content exceeds 80 ppm (parts per million), it points out. This permit is granted by the Swedish Radiation Safety Authority. “Non-compliance with the permit can lead to it being revoked and, if done intentionally, the responsible person can be fined or even imprisoned,” it warns.

It adds that in Sweden, the possible occurrence of radioactive materials (NORMS), heavy metals or saline brines is taken into account by the permit for the environmentally hazardous activity, required for the disposal of waste water.

3 January 2015

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