EWG News and Analysis
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We've all seen (or at least heard of) the movie "Erin Brockovich" in which a bold and fiercely determined mom takes on a chemical company for exposing a small town and the families and children that live there to toxic chemicals that have been linked to cancer. It's Academy Award winning material.
And it's happening again.
In a small town in Colorado, 600 yards from three elementary schools and a childcare center, the natural gas industry is about to drill wells and expose hundreds of school children to chemicals that have never been proven safe, for which there is no accountability when it comes to their safe disposal and for which there is no clarity on who would assume liability (and future medical bills) for the health of these children should they become ill.
It's an unprecedented situation, because in the haste to drill, no regulations and no long-term human health studies have been conducted to assess the impact that these processes and the chemicals used in them might have on the health of children.
According to the Denver Post, "the American landscape is dotted with hundreds of thousands of new wells and thousands of drilling rigs, as the country scrambles to tap into this century's gold rush for natural gas.
Drilling companies have developed techniques to unlock these enormous reserves, and energy companies are clamoring to drill.
But the relatively new drilling method -- known as high-volume horizontal hydraulic fracturing, or hydrofracking -- carries significant environmental risks. It involves injecting huge amounts of water, mixed with sand and chemicals, at high pressures to break up rock formations and release the gas."
Given that the American children have already earned the title "Generation Rx", due to the rates of asthma, allergies, autism, ADHD, diabetes and the fact that cancer is now the leading cause of death by disease in children under the age of 15 (source: Centers for Disease Control), perhaps it is time that we stop and learn a little bit more.
Angie Nordstrum, a mother of a young child with multiple food allergies and asthma, sheds light on what is happening at her child's school:
My son attends the new Red Hawk Elementary in Erie, Colorado. This state of the art green school is a LEED certified building which means that it is complete with geothermal heat system, super insulated building envelope, skylights and displacement ventilation.
The mission of the school is to focus on math, science, technology and integration of the arts by fostering a sense of environmental responsibility by taking care of one's self with healthy eating and exercise and reducing environmental waste. Students begin each school day outside. The school also has a 1,500 square foot garden space. Students and staff will be an integral part of the gardens, with beds for each grade level.
In the news recently, you may have heard of something called "fracking" or "hydraulic fracturing". It is a drilling process used by the natural gas industry to extract natural gas from beneath the ground.
And there are health and safety concerns about it. Despite provisions in the Clean Air Act, there is something called the Halliburton Loophole that allows the gas companies to inject proprietary mixtures of methane, ethane, liquid condensate, and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) into the wells. Some of the VOCs that are used in the mixtures have a significant impact on health and include benzene, toluene, ethyl benzene and xylene.
Health effects of exposure to these chemicals include neurological problems, birth defects, and cancer. Other symptoms may include bloody noses, asthma, GI distress, diarrhea, dizziness, migraines, nerve pain, neurological disorders and skin rashes. These health risks pose a potential threat to children.
Yet despite these concerns, drilling is beginning on eight natural gas wells less than 600 yards from our school, Erie Elementary, Erie Middle School and Exploring Minds Childcare Center. Yes, three schools and a childcare center are about to be exposed to an unprecedented experiment in children's health.
Will the school nurse will be seeing dozens of sick children in her office. What health issues will these students have in 5 years? In 10 years?
The companies will begin the drilling process in the next couple of weeks. It will be visible from my son's classroom. The only access to the site will be from the road which runs right in front of the school. Let me repeat that, "The only access to the site will be from the road which runs right in front of the school" because while there is another road that is actually closer to the drilling site, this road cannot be used for drilling transportation because the chemical-carrying trucks are not allowed to cross railroad tracks on the course of their path.
At what point are children more valuable than railroad tracks? The trucks transporting the chemicals cannot cross the railroad tracks but they can transport toxic chemicals right in front of the entrance to our school?
Erie is an old coal mining town. There are parks and ball fields built on top of these mines for kids to enjoy all over our town. Our school garden sits on top of an old mine. We don't want our children to be the canaries in the natural gas coal mine.
To learn what you can do to protect yourself and your family and how to prevent the drilling of these wells near children's schools, the following pages and resources provide information about:
- The drilling planned for your community.
- The harm drilling can cause.
- Steps you can take to limit the dangers to yourself and your family.
- Resources in each state in which drilling is or is likely to occur.
- EWG: Natural Gas Industry Hides Risks of Fracking from Landowners
- Natural Resources Defense Council: Steps to Keep You and Your Family Safe from Fracking
- Sign On: Request a Moratorium on Oil and Gas Drilling Near Schools in Colorado
- "What You Need to Know About Natural Gas Production"
- Gasland: The Movie
- Blue Green Alliance: Chemicals in the Environment
- Fracking Across the United States: Learn about "Fraccidents" and How to Protect Your Loved Ones
Robyn O'Brien is the founder of the AllergyKids Foundation and Do Good, a small consulting company, and she has delivered TEDx talks as well as inspiring messages to thousands of people around the country, including entrepreneurs, Congressional offices, corporate professionals, mothers' groups, schools and universities. She also serves on the EWG Board of Directors.