The Health Costs of Fracking

by Vins
Published: Last Updated on

In April 2014, the Parr family was awarded $2.95 million in a lawsuit alleging that environmental contamination from nearby Aruba Petroleum’s hydraulic fracturing (gas fracking) sites in Wise County, Texas, sickened them and killed their livestock. Residents in Minisink, New York claimed to suffer from ailments similar to the Texas family. Such ailments included acute onset of respiratory, neurologic, dermal, vascular, abdominal, and gastrointestinal sequelae that erupted during a period of malodorous emissions at the new Millennium Pipeline gas compressor station. The reported maladies of these residents suggest that the environmental hazards from “fracking” extend well beyond local drilling sites.

Wilma Subra, an environmental consultant, finds that symptoms troubling Minisink residents are typical of 90 percent of people living near gas compressors and metering stations. Subra found that not only do compressor stations produce several tons of carcinogenic volatile compounds each year; they also emit chemicals from “fracked gas,” drawn from deep in the earth. Cancer causing radioactive components such as Radium 226 contaminates the natural gas stream and builds up in the units of compressor facilities. The decay particles of radium include dangerous particles such as polonium, which decays permanently into lead.

The concern is short-term exposure to highly radioactive particles as well as long-term exposure to and accumulation of lead particles. Uncertainty about the contents and the health impact of emissions persists — since the industry is self-regulated and their air emissions are entirely self-reported. No one is monitoring what’s being emitted or the health impact on local residents.

Source: Jessica Cohen, “The Real Cost of Fracking,” Utne Reader, Fall 2014,

Student Researcher: Stephanie Armendariz (San Francisco State University)

Faculty Evaluator: Kenn Burrows (San Francisco State University)