Hydraulic fracturing, commonly known as fracking is once again at the forefront of environmental news. This time the news is not all bad. Researchers have discovered that the fracking process is not directly linked to drinking water contaminated by natural gas in North Texas or in Pennsylvania, the homes of two of the nation’s largest shale.
Researchers from several different universities figured out the exact source of the water contamination by testing seven separate locations in the Marcellus Shale in Pennsylvania and one in the Barnett Shale in Texas. The samples were then examined based on their elemental make up, which allowed researchers to determine exactly where the gas originated, including the depth that is was released from.
This allowed the researchers to pinpoint that the water contamination was linked to natural gas wells that had not been associated with active fracking practices. Researchers feel that this is relatively good news since the safety of gas well construction can be improved to ensure leaks do not occur in the future.
Water Contaminated with natural gas is not only dangerous to human health, but it also poses a huge public safety hazard. If water contains enough gas, fumes can be leached into the home creating an extremely flammable environment. Since natural gas is so flammable, dangerous explosions can occur. One homeowner near the area in which the Barnett Shale sample was taken, demonstrated the danger of natural gas in local water by creating a home video of his garden hose being lit on fire, shooting a fiery stream.
The homeowner, Steve Lipsky, was sued for defamations by a local gas company as a result of the video. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) agreed with Lipsky in blaming the gas company for the contamination. The company was later found not responsible for the contamination by The Railroad Commission in a private hearing. The EPA soon changed its opinion on the matter.
The natural gas industry has exploded over the past decade due to fracking, especially in the Barnett Shale of North Texas and the Marcellus Shale in Pennsylvania. The Barnett Shale is located to the west of Dallas, Texas and is about 5,000 square miles. Approximately 20,500 permits have been granted for well drilling over the past nine years alone. The Marcellus Shale is five times as large at approximately 95,000 square miles, spanning several states east of the Appalachian Mountains. Many officials in the area see the fracking industry as new way to spark the area’s slow economy. Other advocates see fracking as a means to creating an energy independent Unites States.
Critics of fracking are still not convinced that the process is completely innocent in potential water contamination. For instance, university researchers involved in this study have admitted that while the natural gas found in water supplies was not directly associated with the fracking process some of the gas in the leaky wells had traveled from deeper layers of the shale. With that said, they specify that fracking is not releasing natural gas directly into water supplies. They also said that if that was the case water contamination would be much more severe.
New York Senator Charles Schumer is introducing a law that would ban the use of ten fire retardant chemicals commonly found in children’s products. The law’s passage would prove an important win for both environmental safety as well as the safety of the public’s health.
Flame retardant chemicals can be found in many upholstered items like mattresses, sofas and carpets. They can also be found in crib mattresses, changing pads, nursing pillows, as well as a host of other children’s products. The chemicals have been linked to several potential health risks including cancer, fertility issues, and abnormal brain development. While everyone faces the danger of daily exposure to these chemicals, a recent Duke University study found that children are far more sensitive to potential health hazards. In fact the study showed that carcinogen levels were approximately five times higher in children than their parents.
Fire retardant chemicals not only contain carcinogens, but the human body may also process them similarly to hormones produced by the thyroid. It is this influence on hormone levels that can lead to infertility issues, obesity, and other serious thyroid problems.
It has also become clear after recent research that fire retardant materials are not actually helpful in preventing fires. In the 1970s strict fire safety laws began to require the use of flame retardant chemicals in many products. The public was supportive of the requirements as the materials were advertised as a way to help save children in fires. The potential danger of exposure to these chemicals was never part of the discussion.
There are a few things that one can do to reduce the amount of exposure that an adult or child has to flame retardant chemicals. First, look for products that voluntarily choose not to use flame retardant chemicals. These products will usually be advertised as green or “eco- friendly.” Secondly, vacuum, sweep, and dust often. Dust particles help the dangerous chemicals become airborne, making it much easier to breathe them in. Lastly, it is important to support legislation like that being introduced by Senator Schumer in order to set a national precedence of this important environmental regulation.
The U.S. House of Representative is responding to a current environmental trend to ditch the use of polystyrene, commonly known as Styrofoam in the Capitol cafeteria. In the past, there had been a move towards more environmentally friendly packaging, but in 2011 the efforts were ended. The Capital switched back to using Styrofoam.
There are many health risks associated with the use of Styrofoam, one of which is cancer. The process to produce the product uses several dangerous chemicals, most notably styrene. The individuals in the greatest danger to styrene exposure are those working in the factories manufacturing Styrofoam products. These individuals have a much higher risk of developing leukemia, lymphoma, and other illness affecting white blood cells. The consumer also faces exposure to styrene on a smaller scale each time they eat or drink from a Styrofoam product. That exposure is increased when the containers are microwaved. Chemicals then begin to leach out into the food or drink.
Styrofoam is also extremely non biodegradable and is long lasting when littered by careless individuals. The product is also light by nature, so it is easily blown around spreading the litter far and wide. Many times Styrofoam packaging will break into much smaller pieces, which animal’s mistake for food. After consumption the Styrofoam can choke an animal or it blocks the animal’s digestive tract, often resulting in death.
The use of Styrofoam products has lead to a massive land pollution problem. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that about 20 million pounds of waste Styrofoam is produced on a yearly basis. Much of that ends up in landfills where it will remain intact for decades to come. The remainder ends up littered about the land and sea.
Many House Democrats feel that now is the time that Congress needs to cease the use of Styrofoam packaging. They feel it is their legal due diligence in a time when the District of Colombia passed a law that requires all Washington, D.C. restaurants to stop using Styrofoam products by the beginning of 2016. This ban includes food trucks as well. Other cities have banned the use of Styrofoam packaging including Portland, Oregon and Orange County, California. Internationally, Taiwan has also banned Styrofoam. The hope is to reduce the amount of litter in the city, have less trash in the landfill, and fewer toxic chemicals used in the manufacturing process.
Advocacy groups like the Environment America Research & Policy Center are pushing for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to strengthen the Clean Water Act in order to protect the nation’s fresh water supply. In order to highlight the urgency, Environment America cites a report that they conducted. The report states that 206 million pounds of hazardous waste material are dumped into U.S. waterways annually. Approximately 10% of that waste can be directly credited to the industrial food companies.
The report also discusses the food industry was the largest offenders in toxic dumping. The top spot goes to Tyson Foods with an annual dumping of 18 million pounds of waste into U.S. waterways. Cargill Inc, Perdue Farms Inc, and Pilgrim Pride Corp. also top the list.
The toxic chemicals dumped usually include mercury, arsenic, and nitrates. Both mercury and arsenic are heavy metals that can cause serious health problems upon exposure. Nitrates which result from the chicken processing factories can also cause health problems like organ damage. Nitrates in drinking water prove especially dangerous when used in making baby formula. Infants are more sensitive to exposure and can develop many illnesses, including one called methemoglobinemi, in which blood is not able to carry oxygen to the entire body. Babies with this disorder can often appear slightly blue in color as a result.
Not only do heavy metals and nitrates affect human health, but the water contamination can lead to complete dead zones in waterways. Nitrates encourage algae overgrowth, so much so that the algae consume all of the waters oxygen. With no oxygen in the water other life cannot be sustained. Dead zones have been a continued current environmental issue for the Great Lakes.
The solution is also not as simple as boycotting the purchase of a certain brand in protest, as many of the food companies are so large they supply goods to many other venues. For instance KFC, McDonald’s, and several other fast food chains all rely on Tyson Foods. The Environment America Research & policy Center argues that the only way to combat the dumping of industrial waste into the nation’s waterways is for the EPA to strengthen the Clean Water Act. Industries like the factory foods would then become more accountable of what they are dumping into U.S. waterways and essentially what they are dumping into our drinking glass.
Last year’s brutal forest fire in Central California, known as the Rim Fire, was a national news headline, with video images of the impressive blaze burned into many of our memories. The fire destroyed eleven homes and approximately 400 square miles of land. The fire burned much of Stanislaus National Forest as well as parts of Yosemite National Park. All in all, the fire cost the state more than $125 million to fight and eventually extinguish.
After the final flames were put out, the debate over what to do with the charred land began to heat up. Following site assessments the U.S Forest Service has been working to come up with a fair solution, but has acknowledged that they cannot please all parties involved. Last week a plan was released allowing 52 square miles of burned forest to be logged by timber companies. Approximately 24 square miles consist of mountain range forest, the remaining 28 square miles is roadside.
Timber companies have bid on the land and the money resulting from the purchase is expected to go towards replacement baby trees. Proponents of this plan point out that the haste in the U.S. Forest Service’s decision has driven the bids lower than they could have been since some of the burned timber has begun to deteriorate.
Removal of burned timber has also been advocated as the best option for both public interest and environmental safety. For instance, any unsafe trees in danger of falling or causing destruction will be removed. Also removing charged trees will result in a lower chance of future forest fires in the area.
Environmentalists are not as thrilled with the decisions made. They argue that the burned trees are an important part in the forest’s re growth. They also serve as the habitat for many species like the spotted owl and the black-backed wood pecker. Environmentalists feel that the only option that they have left is to take the U.S. Forest Services and timber industry to court. One strategy may be to get the spotted owl listed as an endangered species. If this occurred, it habitat would be protected.