Monday, 26 September 2016

Fracking and cancer

On the day the Labour shadow energy secretary Dr Barry Gardiner announced at Labour's annual conference in Liverpool that Labour would ban fracking if returned to government, I sent this letter to The Times:
Your environment editor reports that the Advertising Standards Authority has adjudicated that Friends of the Earth (FoE) has “failed to substantiate claims that fracking could cause cancer.” (“Fracking scare stories condemned by watchdog,” September 26;

This is true, but does not mean fracking does not cause cancer. FOE made claims, rebutted by the ASA, that “studies show that 25 per cent of fracking chemicals could cause cancer.” But the cancer concern remain because of radon in the natural gas inevitably released by the hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) process.

The heath watchdog, Public Health England, warned in a report published three years ago 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.”

(‘Shale gas extraction: review of the potential public health impacts of exposures to chemical and radioactive pollutants,’ 30 October 2013;

This is confirmed by research published in the United States by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health that found levels of radon in Pennsylvania homes – where 42 percent of readings surpass what the U.S. government considers safe – have been on the rise since 2004, around the time that the fracking industry began drilling natural gas wells in the state. (Increased Levels of Radon in Pennsylvania Homes Correspond to Onset of Fracking’, April 9, 2015;

Radon is unquestionably the leading cause of lung cancer in non-smokers.  A report produced by the UK Health Protection Agency in 2009, ‘Radon and Public Health:’ Report of an independent Advisory Group on Ionising Radiation (Docs RCE 11, HPA 2009: states:
“Radon is a naturally occurring colourless and odourless radioactive gas that can seep out of the ground and build up in houses, buildings, and indoor workplaces. 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 Health Protection Agency indicates that about 1100 UK deaths from lung cancer each year are caused by exposure to radon (most caused jointly by radon and smoking.” (emphasis added)




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