Tag Archives: water pollution

A new tool can show if your water is polluted by fracking

Exposing drinking water to hydraulic fracturing fluid increases the risk of many adverse health outcomes. Unfortunately, knowing the risks posed by a particular well is very difficult due to the wide range of chemical ingredients used across sites. Now, researchers have created an app that changes this radically.

Credit Flickr Matt Brown

Hydraulic fracturing is a technique used to release the oil or gas held within naturally occurring pockets of shale or other dense rock deep within the earth. While it’s not a new technique, it saw a major increase in use since the early 2000s. Following this growth, reports started linking fracking with an increase in seismic activity.

But that’s not the only issue. Close proximity to hydraulic fracturing sites has been linked with increased hospitalization rates, increased risk of preterm birth, increases in congenital heart defects, and possibly neural tube defects among the public. These adverse health outcomes are likely due to the chemicals used in the fracking process, which affect processes involving development and reproduction.

Penn Medicine researchers have created an interactive tool, called WellExplorer, that allows community members and scientists to find out which toxins may be lurking in their drinking water as a result of fracking. You just have to type your ZIP code in the website or the app and look at the fracking sites near you, with information on the chemicals used at each of them.

In a recent study, the researchers behind the interactive tool found worrying data on some of the wells. For example, Illinois, Ohio, and Pennsylvania use a high number of ingredients targeting testosterone pathways. Meanwhile, Alabama uses a disproportionately high number of ingredients targeting estrogen pathways.

“The chemical mixtures used in fracking are known to regulate hormonal pathways, including testosterone and estrogen, and can therefore affect human development and reproduction,” Mary Regina Boland, one of the researchers behind the project, said in a statement. “Knowing about these chemicals is important, not only for researchers but also for individuals.”

The US already has a central registry for fracking chemical disclosures called FracFocus but the researchers believed it’s not user-friendly for the general public. It also doesn’t have information about the biological action of the fracking chemicals that it lists. That’s why they developed WellExplorer, starting by cleaning and shortening the data from FracFocus to use it in their own interactive tool.

The researchers integrated data from the Toxin and Toxin Target Database (T3DB) in order to obtain the toxic and biological properties of the ingredients found at the well sites. They also extracted toxicity rankings of the top 275 most toxic ingredients from the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, as well as a list of ingredients that were food additives.

Boland explained that the use of chemicals at a fracking site may not necessarily mean that those chemicals would be present in the water supply, which would be dependent on other factors, such as the depth of the hydraulic fracturing. Nevertheless, she said WellExplorer was a very good starting point for residents that may be dealing with symptoms and want to have their water tested.

pollution and premature deaths.

Global pollution linked to one in six premature deaths. It’s worse than wars, AIDS and road accidents combined

pollution and premature deaths.

Credit: Pixabay.

An extensive study carried out by environmental experts found an alarmingly high percentage of all global premature deaths are linked to pollution, specifically airborne pollution. In 2015, nine million premature deaths or roughly 16 percent of all deaths can be attributed to pollution, according to the findings published in The Lancet. That’s one-and-a-half times more than the number of people killed by smoking, three times the number killed by AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria combined, more than six times the number killed in road accidents, and 15 times the number killed in war or other forms of violence.

“There’s been a lot of study of pollution, but it’s never received the resources or level of attention as, say, AIDS or climate change,” said epidemiologist Philip Landrigan, dean of global health at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, New York, and the lead author on the report.

The elephant in the room no one’s talking about

The international collaboration that included over 40 scientists from leading research instituted around the world examined data on premature mortality from Global Burden of Disease dataset, which estimates mortality from major diseases and their causes across populations. Researchers gauged the effects of air pollution (particle matter, toxic compounds), water pollution (contamination, unhygienic sanitation), and workplace pollution (toxins and carcinogens).

The investigation revealed a harrowing landscape where pollution is causing a massive death toll, especially in the developing world which is burning fossil fuels at an alarming rate.

  • Air pollution was linked to 6.5 million premature deaths;
  • Water pollution was linked to 1.8 million premature deaths;
  • Workplace pollution was linked to 1 million premature deaths;
  • Premature deaths resulting from pollution-related diseases like heart disease and cancer outnumbered AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria combined 3 to 1;
  • About 92% of all premature deaths linked to pollution occur in low and middle-income countries.
  • Up to one in four deaths can be attributed to pollution in countries like China, India, Pakistan, or Bangladesh.
  • In absolute numbers, China (1.8 million) and India (2.5 million) had the most pollution-related deaths for the year 2015.
  • The United States, home to the world’s biggest economy, saw 155,000 premature deaths linked to pollution in 2015.

In reality, the scope of pollution may be even worse since the researchers used conservative data which likely underestimates the burden of pollution on people’s livelihoods. For instance, the study didn’t take into account the effects of endocrine disruptors, pesticides, or flame retardants, all of which are widely used and known to contribute to premature death.

Most of these premature deaths occur in developing countries and disproportionately affect the poor. Nations like India or China have grown their economies at full throttle using cheap fossil fuels as gas but in doing so they’ve sacrificed the health of their population. Yet this isn’t an indispensable trade-off. The United States or the European Union have shown that pollution can be curbed without sacrificing economic output through legislation that protects the environment and regulates water use.

The findings serve as a wakeup call to policymakers but also to the public which is often unaware of the full scope of pollution and how it affects livelihoods for generations to come.