Toxics: Common Threads from Fracking to Pesticides

February 27th, 2011

The New York Times published an impressive article on ‘fracking’ or the extraction of gas fuel from deep underground wells by “…injecting huge amounts of water, mixed with sand and chemicals, at high pressures to break up rock formations and release the gas.”. Entitled, “Regulation Lax as Gas Wells’ Tainted Water Hits Rivers” by Ian Urbina, it continues the traditional attempt at creating change through manipulating public opinion. Regaling us with specific tales of suffering by those sickened by the fracking chemicals and the additional natural hazards flushed from our underground places (e.g. radon, radium), it leaves Americans with the prospect of suffering through decades of research while corporations pretend to investigate this obvious problem.

Government will collude in this process through the expenditure of tax revenues to treat the sick. More will be spent conducting the tests that industry should have conducted during their R&D process, merely to certify the trauma that fracking creates under the earth and in our homes. By the time it is no longer profitable to collect fuel in this manner (through depletion or health costs), the EPA will threaten to end the practice. Ultimately, industry will voluntarily ‘drop’ it, ostensibly to avoid litigation and without admitting fault. In the meantime, politicians will build reputations by endlessly debating the matter threatening job losses while the opposition touts environmental degradation.

Maybe, someone will mention the children at various medical conferences and many petitions will be signed. It isn’t cynical to point out that billions of dollars in profits can never be countered through petitions, demonstrations or dialogue with politicians whose campaign funds are richly supplemented by these companies. It is also the reality of our history in marketing poisons with unanticipated health effects and the marketing of others with highly predictable effects. It simply isn’t possible not to expect horrendous adverse effects when marketing chemicals originally invented for purposes of chemical warfare like pesticides.

Just as our economy collapsed through the ‘trickle-down’ model of economics, so has the health of our citizens by expectations that essential research and development for safe products and services will come from industry. The demand for relegating large numbers of the population to illness, disability and death is not a trade-off for jobs but a defense of overly inflated profits. The ‘cult of never-enough’ is a tangible reality and its members are quick to designate those suffering illness as either being ‘too sensitive’ to chemicals or genetically defective. Given the national cancer rate is over 40%, the march towards complete insolvency through bending to such propaganda is close at hand.

The facts relating to the various diagnoses of those suffering from the intrusion of industrial chemicals into our personal environments offers an entirely new take upon this problem. Discussing the amounts of benzene in water will always be derailed by discussions of the extensive investment being made in water treatment. People are still sick. Why not test our own personal air and water quality? It is far cheaper to do so as a check upon industrial activity than to wait for decades to pass in which a few sites will ultimately be targeted for clean-up. The time for trusting we will be told what is necessary is over.

This blog is full of stories pertaining to the toxicity of pesticides, substances I have measured in offices and residences through certified laboratories in order to determine health risks. Yet, this is a rarely performed service apart from agricultural soil samples. It took the deaths of two children in Utah before outdoor applications of pesticides were openly acknowledged as resulting in indoor contamination and confirmed through such indoor testing. Chemicals travel through doors, walls and windows. Typically, we are concerned about radon entering through foundations and indoor fuels releasing carbon monoxide into our air. The Tooney family of Layton, Utah had their lawn treated with a pesticide. Most of the family suffered illness following this application and carbon monoxide detectors sounded their alarms. However, no measurable concentrations of CO were found by firefighters called to the scene. After the tragic deaths of two little girls, readings for the active ingredient of the chemical used were finally taken and found to be elevated. The surviving family members returned to the home when readings were no longer in evidence.

The reader is urged to note that the fines for contaminating property are cited at a much higher amount than those for endangering human health. The ability to detect such causation of human health problems is due to our lack of testing facilities and protocols. Residues of chemicals can be assessed through air testing and by their absorption by furnishings, carpet or sheet rock. Porous materials capture toxicants and re-release them into the air as temperatures rise or cleaning is attempted, like baseboard heaters which are often the target of exterminator wands as an entry port for insects. Is there any reason to believe that chemicals released through ‘fracking’ would leave less of a signature than pesticides? We have only to conduct tests of the homes of the more obvious sufferers to find out.

Chemicals behave differently in enclosed spaces. We lack an industry truly devoted to indoor pest control. Such chemicals have never been subjected to a re-approval process to determine the degree to which they behave differently indoors. Toxic chemicals emitted by many products we purchase such as insulation, paint, furniture, carpets and air fresheners are of equal concern. We can make wiser choices as consumers if we know the hazardous ingredients used in many of these and, should symptoms develop, could test for them and ensure physicians have a fully accurate exposure history for their patients.

The public is responsible for citing dangers to our own health. Corporations have the rights of citizenship in the US, no matter where they are based. We must therefore accept that our elected leaders have a duty to guard corporate interests, however much in conflict this stands with our own rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

My comment on this article:


Barbara Rubin
February 27th, 2011
9:45 am

Key quotes from the article:

“Like most of the sewage treatment plant operators interviewed, Mr. McCurdy said his plant was not equipped to remove radioactive material and was not required to test for it.” and ““If we’re too hard on them,” the inspector added, “the companies might just stop reporting their mistakes.”

Once again, the pollution plaguing our nation is reduced to the concept that chemicals, known to be incompatible with human biochemistry, are worth any risk as long as jobs are offered by the offending industry. No one appears to recognize that workers are immediately divorced from their jobs by occupationally related illness and succumb to bankruptcy as illnesses strike family members living in such environs. However, there is no gain to be had in arguing environmental hazards away from those environments. Does anyone expect a board of directors to admit potential liability?

Our health statistics speak for themselves. It is time to problem-solve issues of pollution ‘inductively’, extrapolating from the specific to the general. Testing the individual homes of the sick for levels of suspected toxicants will reveal both the degree of chemical trespass long denied by polluters. It will also offer physicians and researchers the data needed to make the associations between symptoms and contaminants. Why pose questions outside of the specific settings of concern—our homes, schools and offices? It is no accident that in 2008, the New York City Council proposed a ban on private testing for contaminants without a police permit. The findings of citizens engaged in uncovering their own dangers is greatly feared by industries and governmental agencies.

Let’s make it a routine occurrence through the development of an industry devoted to indoor air quality assessment. Questions about actual environmental impacts upon individual can then be answered, leading to responsible policies and regulations. Perhaps we can then reduce the health care costs currently crippling our economy.

Barbara Rubin

Categories: Newspaper Commentary, NY Times, Published

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Comments Feed2 Comments

  1. Sara

    Hi! Just found your site today after seeing a comment you left on a Mighty Nest article. I’m just one of the many concerned parents out there today. I live in a neighborhood in the suburbs of Denver that prides itself on being green and sustainable, yet used pesticides on its parks. I really would like to find a way to get this practice banned. Toronto has already done, as you probably know. I just don’t know how or where to get started. If you have any tips, I’d love to hear from you. And thank you for all the change that you are trying to bring about!

  2. agasaya

    Hi Sara,

    The term ‘Green’ is really limited to sustainability issues and that’s important. However, it doesn’t make ‘green’ products and services necessarily compatible with biochemistry. We’ll be needing to find that balance ourselves through full disclosure practices which allow informed citizens to educate consumers as to where to invest their consumer dollars.

    It’s important to realize that legislative processes may take thirty years to obtain a ban on a particular chemical, by which time many thousands of new and similar products will have been marketed. The substitute for the ‘popcorn lung’ chemicals is apparently no better than its predecessor. How many will know that?

    Establishing consumers as part of the ‘trade’ contract is the first goal since secrecy in use and contents violates a cardinal rule in which all parties ought to know the terms of sale. This means answering the questions:

    -What am I getting for my money?
    -What did someone else get for THEIR money and took me along on the consumer ride?

    Every town clerk’s office should have a registry of pesticide applications being made in the area. Currently, only EPA gets notified of the use of restricted use chemicals and no one is required to ever hear about the items used which don’t require a license to buy or utilize. If all properties over a certain size (increasing risks of drift) and businesses were required to list such activity in a non-punitive fashion, others could make informed decisions about whether to own property in the area, work in particular facilities etc. Exposure histories would be available to doctors and so forth.

    We also have to realize that the addition of fragrance chemicals to toxicants is normal procedure to reduce or eradicate awareness of their use. That is an issue for legislation! We mustn’t be lulled into a false sense of security because of ‘good smells’. These don’t alter fumes being emitted from application sources but do alter our ability to detect them. As with natural gas and other odorless poisons, some recognizable scent tag should be associated with any poison. This would permit people to recognize that ‘low odor’ paints, pesticides and sealants aren’t necessarily safer and that re-entry times (“When the odor has dissipated), have no real basis in fact for such advice.

    Personally, it would be important to find out which chemicals are in use and then test nearby dwellings for drift using a reputable laboratory. Pediatricians MUST lobby for proper medical surveillance of exposure for their patients with health problems, currently impossible to do for the most frequently used agricultural products. There are no pesticides invented just for non-farm uses and this is another area of research and development that we must demand of industry.

    Barb Rubin

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