1.5C rise in temperature enough to start permafrost melt, scientists warn | Environment | guardian.co.uk
“I would expect to see continuous permafrost start to thaw along the boundaries at this threshold of 1.5C [in future],” said Anton Vaks, of the Earth sciences department at Oxford, who led the research. Temperatures in the region were 0.5-1C higher than in modern times for a period about 120,000 years ago, and at that time stalactites in caves further south, near Lake Baikal, showed signs of growth, and therefore melting.
But for the same period, the stalactites in the far northern cave – called the Ledyanaya Lenskaya cave, near the town of Lensk at latitude 60N – did not grow, showing that the permafrost remained intact at those temperatures. “This indicates that 1.5C appears to be something of a tipping point,” said Vaks.
At present, global average temperatures are about 0.6C-0.7C above pre-industrial levels. This means, according to Vaks, that climate modellers should include the possibility of permafrost beginning to melt in their models.
The team of scientists, from Mongolia, Russia and Switzerland as well as the UK, used radiometric dating techniques on the cave formations. They report on their work in the journal Science Express, published on Thursday.
Vaks said the findings could have severe implications for the region, as melting permafrost could affect natural gas exploration and pipelines, as well as other infrastructure. It could also have more wide-reaching effects. “Although it wasn’t the main focus of our research, our work also suggest that in a world 1.5C warmer – warm enough to melt the coldest permafrost – adjoining regions would see significant changes. Mongolia’s Gobi Desert [could] become much wetter than it is today and this extremely arid area could come to resemble the present-day Asian steppes.”
He said more research was needed to establish the likely speed and scale of melting as temperatures rise.
Last year’s record loss of Arctic sea ice is already causing big changes for plants and animals that scientists are just starting to understand, according to newly published research.
That voyage of the Polarstern, owned by Germany’s Alfred Wegener Institute, couldn’t have come at a more interesting time.
In 2012, scientists measured Arctic sea ice at its lowest level in 33 years of satellite records. Where the Polarstern originally planned to work, “there was not even an ice cube for us,” said Boetius.
The Polarstern had to travel more than 400 kilometres farther north to find enough ice to begin its planned research on algae called Melosira arctica that normally grow under the ice in thick, ropy strands up to five metres long. Few animals eat Melosira, but many live in it and Boetius compares it to a kind of coral reef.
The Polarstern scientists wanted to find out if Melosira was benefiting from thinner ice that allows more light to pass through. They also wanted to check anecdotal reports that suggested Melosira mats were disappearing.
Researchers found both assertions were correct, but not in the way they expected.
“We were surprised that we saw (Melosira mats) everywhere, but they had fallen to the deep sea,” said Boetius.
“We found their remnants. It looked like someone had pulled out hair. Something had happened to them.”
The scientists checked the sea floor as far down as 4.4 kilometres and that’s where they found the algae.
Boetius suggests Melosira benefits from spring sunshine filtering through the thinner ice. Later in the season, when the sea gets too warm and too diluted by meltwater, the algae simply drop off.
But in the energy-poor Arctic ocean, the transfer of that much organic material from one level to another is having profound consequences.
In just one season, the numbers of sea cucumbers and brittle stars on the sea floor have exploded. Bacteria have bloomed to the point where they have used all the available oxygen in the water in some areas of the ocean bottom.
“We saw the first anoxic spots forming in the deep sea,” Boetius said. “That can change life dramatically.”
As for what the loss of Melosira mats means for surface sea life, Boetius concedes they just doesn’t know.
She said the lack of any other organisms feeding on the dead Melosira, as well as the presence of plenty of oxygen in sea-floor sediments, convinces her that what the Polarstern observed is a very recent development.
She maintained that the Polarstern research, published Thursday in the prestigious journal Science, constitutes a lesson for those who still imagine the Arctic as an unchanging expanse of ice, snow and water.
“Will this be the future Arctic that we have just acquired the first evidence of? This we cannot answer.
“We are really at the point where we look and see changes that we cannot even model, or that we really cannot explain.”
The radical changes in the High Arctic seas after just one season are a warning to those planning to exploit the area’s resources, or use it as a shipping corridor, Boetius said.
“We are thinking of uses without even documenting how the Arctic functions.”
A gamma ray burst, the most powerful explosion known in the Universe, may have hit the Earth in the 8th Century.
In 2012 researchers found evidence that our planet had been struck by a blast of radiation during the Middle Ages, but there was debate over what kind of cosmic event could have caused this.
Now a study suggests it was the result of two black holes or neutron stars merging in our galaxy.
This collision would have hurled out vast amounts of energy.
The research is published in the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.
Last year, a team of researchers found that some ancient cedar trees in Japan had an unusual level of a radioactive type of carbon known as carbon-14.
Gamma ray bursts are very, very explosive and energetic events”
Professor Ralph Neuhauser University of Jena, Germany
In Antarctica, too, there was a spike in levels of a form of beryllium – beryllium-10 – in the ice.
These isotopes are created when intense radiation hits the atoms in the upper atmosphere, suggesting that a blast of energy had once hit our planet from space.
Using tree rings and ice-core data, researchers were able to pinpoint that this would have occurred between the years AD 774 and AD 775, but the cause of the event was a puzzle.
The possibility of a supernova – an exploding star – was put forward, but then ruled out because the debris from such an event would still be visible in telescopes today.
Another team of US physicists recently published a paper suggesting that an unusually large solar flare from the Sun could have caused the pulse of energy. However some others in the scientific community disagree because they do not think that the energy produced would tally with the levels of carbon-14 and beryllium-10 found.
So now German researchers have offered up another explanation: a massive explosion that took place within the Milky Way.
One of the authors of the paper, Professor Ralph Neuhauser, from the Institute of Astrophysics at the University of Jena, said: “We looked in the spectra of short gamma-ray bursts to estimate whether this would be consistent with the production rate of carbon-14 and beryllium-10 that we observed – and [we found] that is fully consistent.”
These enormous emissions of energy occur when black holes, neutron stars or white dwarfs collide – the galactic mergers take just seconds, but they send out a vast wave of radiation.
Prof Neuhauser said: “Gamma-ray bursts are very, very explosive and energetic events, and so we considered from the energy what would be the distance given the energy observed.
“Our conclusion was it was 3,000 to 12,000 light-years away – and this is within our galaxy.”
Although the event sounds dramatic, our medieval ancestors might not have noticed much.
If the gamma-ray burst happened at this distance, the radiation would have been absorbed by our atmosphere, only leaving a trace in the isotopes that eventually found their way into our trees and the ice. The researchers do not think it even emitted any visible light.
Observations of deep space suggest that gamma ray-bursts are rare. They are thought to happen at the most every 10,000 years and at the least once in a million years in a galaxy.
Prof Neuhauser said it was unlikely Planet Earth would see another one soon, but if we did, this time it could make more of an impact.
If a cosmic explosion happened at the same distance as the 8th Century event, it could knock out our satellites. But if it occurred even closer – just a few hundred light-years away – it would destroy our ozone layer, with devastating effects for life on Earth.
However, this, said Prof Neuhauser, was “extremely unlikely”.
Commenting on the research, Professor Adrian Melott from the University of Kansas, US, said that although he thought a short gamma-ray burst was a possible conclusion, his group’s research suggested that a solar flare was more likely based on observations of Sun-like stars in our galaxy.
He said: “A solar proton event and a short gamma-ray burst are both possible explanations, but based on the rates that we know about in the Universe, the gamma-ray burst explanation is about 10,000 times less likely to be true in that time period.”
Black carbon causes twice as much global warming than previously thought | Environment | guardian.co.uk
New findings suggest there may be untapped potential to curb climate change by reducing soot emissions
Soot from burned wood and diesel exhausts may have twice the impact on global warming than previously thought, according to a new study published on Tuesday.
The “black carbon” is said to be the second most important man-made agent of climate change.
The findings, published in the Journal of Geophysical Research Atmospheres, suggest there may be untapped potential to curb global warming by reducing soot emissions.
Huge quantities of man-made soot enter the atmosphere every year. Around 7.5m tonnes was released in 2000 alone, according to estimates. It has a greenhouse effect two-thirds that of carbon dioxide, and greater than methane.
The biggest source of soot emissions is the burning of forest and savannah grasslands. But diesel engines account for about 70% of emissions from Europe, North America and Latin America.
In Asia and Africa, wood burning domestic fires make up 60% to 80% of soot emissions. Coal fires are also a significant source of soot in China, parts of Eastern Europe, and former Soviet bloc countries.
Soot warms the atmosphere by absorbing incoming and scattered heat from the Sun.
It also promotes the formation of clouds, and generates further warming by dimming the reflective surface of snow and ice.
The study, which involved 31 leading experts from around the world, reviewed all the available data on the impact of soot on climate.
Dr David Fahey, one of the authors from the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), said: “This study confirms and goes beyond other research that suggested black carbon has a strong warming effect on climate, just ahead of methane.”
His colleague Prof Piers Forster, from the University of Leeds‘ School of Earth and Environment, said: “There are exciting opportunities to cool climate by cutting soot emissions, but it is not straightforward.
“Reducing emissions from diesel engines and domestic wood and coal fires is a no-brainer, as there are tandem health and climate benefits.
“If we did everything we could to reduce these emissions, we could buy ourselves up to half a degree less warming – or a couple of decades of respite.”
However, curbing the impact of soot may not be a simple process, the researchers pointed out. Typically soot was emitted along with other particles and gases that may actually cool the climate.
Organic matter in the atmosphere produced by open vegetation burning may have an overall cooling effect, for instance. But other reduction targets are likely to have a clear benefit, say the experts.
“One great candidate is soot from diesel engines,” said Forster. “It may also be possible to look at wood and coal burning in some kinds of industry and in small household burners. In these cases, soot makes up a large fraction of their emissions, so removing these sources would likely cool the climate.”
Tackling soot would have an almost immediate effect, because of the short amount of time it stays in the atmosphere.
While the leading greenhouse gas carbon dioxide remains in the atmosphere for long periods, soot emissions are washed out within a few weeks and then replaced.
“Soot mitigation is an immediate effect but helps for a short time only,” said Forster. “We will always need to mitigate C02 to achieve long-term cooling.”
Australia adds new colour to temperature maps as heat soars | Environment | guardian.co.uk.
Forecast temperatures are so extreme that the Bureau of Meteorology has had to add a new colour to its scale. It is a sign of things to come
Global warming is turning the volume of extreme weather up, Spinal-Tap-style, to 11. The temperature forecast for next Monday by Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology is so unprecedented – over 52C – that it has had to add a new colour to the top of its scale, a suitably incandescent purple.
Australia’s highest recorded temperature is 50.7C, set in January 1960 in South Australia. The record for the hottest average day across the nation was set on Monday, at 40.3C, exceeding a 40-year-old record. “What makes this event quite exceptional is how widespread and intense it’s been,” said Aaron Coutts-Smith, the weather bureau’s climate services manager. “We have been breaking records across all states and territories in Australia over the course of the event so far.” Wildfires are raging across New South Wales and Tasmania.
Australia’s prime minister Julia Gillard said: “Whilst you would not put any one event down to climate change, weather doesn’t work like that, we do know over time that as a result of climate change we are going to see more extreme weather events and conditions.”
She is right of course to be cautious about attributing individual events to global warming, but it is equally clear that new colours will need to be added to scales across the world for heatwaves and other extreme weather events.
We already know that climate change is loading the weather dice. Scientists have shown that the European heatwave of 2003, that caused over 40,000 premature deaths, was made at least twice as likely by climate change. The Russian heatwave of 2010, that killed 50,000 and wiped out $15bn of crops, was made three times as likely by global warming and led to the warmest European summer for 500 years.
The extreme weather forecast is even worse. Mega-heatwaves like these will become five to 10 times more likely over the next 40 years, occurring at least once a decade, scientists predict.
Work by the most authoritative group of scientists, the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, found that it is 90% certain that heatwaves will increase further in length and severity, as will extreme high tides. It is 66% likely that hurricanes and typhoon winds will get faster and that intense rain will increase, as well as landslides. It is more likely than not that droughts will intensify in Europe, North and Central America and, most dangerously given the poverty there, Southern Africa. There are uncertainties of course, but the basic physics is that heat-trapping carbon emissions mean more energy is being pumped into the system, increasing climate chaos.
The two nations in which the fringe opinions of so-called climate sceptics have been trumpeted most loudly – the US and Australia – have now been hit by record heatwaves and, in the US, superstorm Sandy. The scientists are turning up the volume of their warnings, but whether this leads to loud and clear political action to curb emissions or more shouting from sceptics and the vested fossil fuel interests that support them remains to be seen.
Op-ed: There’s no greater threat to America’s children than climate change | PennLive.com.
Climate Change is the Biggest Threat to American Six-Year-Olds
By Glen Retief
This month, two media firestorms terrified American parents with apocalyptic visions of what the future might hold for their kindergarteners. In one, ammunition designed to tear apart bone and tissue snuffed out the lives of twenty children and six adults in an elementary school in Connecticut.
And in the other apocalyptic, all-consuming news story, the United Nations climate change summit in Doha failed to secure any commitments to speed up reductions in greenhouse gas emissions that are roasting the planet.
What? You missed that second story?
Sadly, the climate conference in Doha, which concerned nothing less than the fate of the world, merited scant coverage in American media.
Does this make any sense? Which of these two events will actually have a greater impact on the dangers facing today’s elementary school children — not to mention the 1.8 billion humans currently below the age of 15?
In no way do I mean to downplay the tragic events that happened last month in Newtown. But consider the backdrop to the Doha conference:
A few weeks before the international climate change summit, new research by business consultancy giant PwC found that without drastic new carbon cuts, the world was on track for 11 degrees Fahrenheit of warming by 2100. This confirmed a large-scale study published in 2009 by 31 researchers from seven different countries in the Global Carbon Project, which likewise found the world directly on track for a 6C rise.
If we keep on our current path, what kind of world are today’s six-year-olds from Connecticut likely to inhabit? The question is obviously speculative, but Mark Lyndas, a respected environmental journalist, pored over thousands of published studies and computer models in the libraries of Oxford University to come up with the data for his bestselling book, “Six Degrees: Our Future on a Hotter Planet” — later a National Geographic movie. The following descriptions synthesize his findings with the projections of the Global Carbon Project, PwC, and an important recent lecture given by Kevin Anderson, the British government’s climate change advisor.
Based on this research, today’s Connecticut kindergarteners would likely, in their 30s and 40s, be looking at maps of the United States showing a vast desert stretching over what used to be the prairie-cornfield states — Oklahoma, Kansas, and Nebraska. In their Connecticut summer houses, today’s Newtown kindergarteners would be running air conditioners against weeks of 100-110 degree scorchers. Sandy-like megastorms would be common. Food would be much more expensive: a box of Mueller’s spaghetti, made from wheat that can no longer be grown in continental Europe, might cost $20 or more in today’s dollars. Millions of developing-world people would be starving to death.
By their 50s, in the 2060’s, the situation would have greatly worsened. Today’s kindergarteners will likely have watched reports of the whole Amazonian rainforest collapsing in fire and destruction. Permafrost melt in Siberia would release billions of tons of methane and carbon dioxide, spiraling global warming upwards.
In their 70s and 80s, if the worst climate “tipping points” occur, this American generation would be living in an Earth hotter than at any time for 55 million years. The seas would be acidic and devoid of fish. With much of the world uninhabitable, civilization itself could start to unravel, and these erstwhile kindergarteners would have to worry whether their own children would even be able to biologically survive.
All is not doom and gloom, however. Avoiding this mind-boggling catastrophe is surprisingly easy, if we act quickly and decisively.
Renowned climate scientist James Hansen — one of the first researchers to discover global warming — is among many who believe a progressively rising tax on carbon could rapidly unleash the power of private enterprise to jump-start the renewable energy sector and greatly reduce anticipated warming over the coming century. This tax would be refunded to American families to help them cope with rising energy bills. A tariff applied to imported goods from coal-burning countries like China would prevent American industries from being placed at a competitive disadvantage.
With solar and wind power cheaper than fossil fuels, investors would find it more profitable to invest in clean technology, rather than fossil fuels, to generate electricity. Consumers would look for ways to be more energy efficient. Electric and hybrid vehicles would become attractive choices. As a result, greenhouse gas emissions will subside to levels that are safe and sustainable, giving us a chance to stay within the 2 degrees C of warming needed to avoid catastrophic consequences.
There’s no question that, for our kids, we need to do something about guns, about mental illness, perhaps even about violence in the media. For any parent genuinely concerned about her child’s future well-being, however, few actions may be more important than contacting President Obama and members of Congress to demand decisive progress towards a carbon tax. U.S. Rep. Jim Gerlach, R-Chester County, a member of the Ways and Means committee, is in a special position to make a difference on this issue.
Glen Retief is an associate professor of nonfiction writing at Susquehanna and a member of Citizens Climate Lobby.
Fracking is back: Controversial gas extraction process to resume in UK – Home News – UK – The Independent
The Government today gave the green light for “fracking” to resume across the UK – potentially allowing for gas exploration to take place across 60 per cent of the country.
Drilling to look for shale gas was put on hold 18 months ago after the process, which uses high-pressure liquid to split rock and extract gas, caused two small earthquakes in Blackpool.
But today Ed Davey the Energy Secretary gave the go-head for fracking to resume – heralding the start of what some in Government believe will be an energy “revolution”.
Mr Davey, who is himself sceptical about the potential of shale gas reserves in the UK, said he was putting in place tough new environmental controls to reduce the risk of seismic activity.
He also insisted that exploiting shale gas in this country would not undermine efforts to cut emissions to tackle climate change.
The Treasury has already signalled its support for the budding industry, proposing tax relief for shale gas, and unveiling a gas generation strategy which potentially paves the way for a new “dash for gas”.
But environmentalists warn that a continued reliance on gas would prevent the UK meeting targets to cut emissions and tackle climate change, and that shale has no place in the move to a low-carbon economy.
Mr Davey said shale gas represented a “promising new potential energy resource” but that we were in very early stage of exploration and it is likely to develop slowly.
“It is essential that its development should not come at the expense of local communities or the environment,” he said. “Fracking must be safe and the public must be confident that it is safe. We are strengthening the stringent regime already in place with new controls around seismic risks. And, as the industry develops, we will remain vigilant to all emerging evidence to ensure fracking is safe and the local environment is protected.”
The controls will include a traffic light system, requiring operators to stop if seismic activity reaches a certain level, magnitude 0.5, which is well below a quake that could be felt at the surface but higher than normal fracking levels.
Interestingly the chief executive of the Committee on Climate Change, David Kennedy, who was recently vetoed by David Cameron as the new Permanent Secretary at Department of Energy and Climate Change dismissed claims that exploiting shale gas in the UK and Europe could push down gas prices.
He said it was not a “game changer” on this side of the Atlantic as it could only meet a relatively small share of gas demand.
However, Cuadrilla currently the only company which has started exploration of shale gas resources in the UK, says reserves in Lancashire could supply a quarter of the UK gas demand in the future.
And it claims emissions from domestic shale gas, managed properly, could be 10 per cent lower than liquefied natural gas (LNG) imported from Qatar, or piped from Russia.
Cuadrilla Resources’ chief executive Francis Egan said: “Today’s news is a turning point for the country’s energy future.
“Shale gas has the potential to create jobs, generate tax revenues, reduce our reliance on imported gas, and improve our balance of payments.
“Our exploration has shown that under Lancashire there is a belt of gas-filled shale over one mile thick.
“Today’s decision will allow continued exploration and testing of the UK’s very significant shale resources in a way that fulfils the highest environmental and community standards.”
The company had drilled three exploration wells and had begun fracking and testing gas flows from one of them when the tremors were detected and fracking was suspended last year. They are in the process of drilling a fourth well.
Now that the go-ahead for fracking has been given in the UK, Cuadrilla must obtain new planning permissions, environmental permits and consent from the Department of Energy and Climate Change for further fracking.
But the company hopes to have initial data on how much gas it might be able to extract by the middle of next year.
Today’s decision also paves the way for potential exploration of shale reserves elsewhere in the UK.
Other areas where fracking for shale has been mooted include near Balcombe, West Sussex, where concerns have been voiced about pollution of water supplies, and in the Mendips, raising fears it could affect the world famous hot springs at Bath. Overall shale gas reserves are thought to be present in across 60 per cent of the British landmass.
Greenpeace energy campaigner Leila Deen said: “George Osborne’s dream of building Dallas in Lancashire is dangerous fantasy. He is not JR Ewing and this is not the US.
“Energy analysts agree the UK cannot replicate the American experience of fracking, and that shale gas will do little or nothing to lower bills.
“Pinning the UK’s energy hopes on an unsubstantiated, polluting fuel is a massive gamble and consumers and the climate will end up paying the price.”
Friends of the Earth Executive Director Andy Atkins, said: “Giving the green light to fracking for shale gas will send shock waves across the UK.
“Communities up and down the country will be disturbed by this reckless decision which threatens to contaminate our air and water and undermine national climate targets.
“George Osborne’s short-sighted dash for gas will leave the country dependent on dirty fossil fuels – MPs must stand up for a safe and affordable future by insisting on clean British energy from the wind, waves and sun.”
“Given the results of previous UK fracking experiences and the limited landmass of the United Kingdom surely fracking cannot proceed unless there is absolutely no risk.
Complete madness in my opinion and would be very interested what view the rest of the population of the United Kingdom thinks of this. Comments please.”
Large Hadron Collider ‘may be producing a new type of matter’ as collisions produce surprise results | Mail Online
- Researchers looked at collisions between protons and lead ions
PUBLISHED: 17:18, 27 November 2012 | UPDATED: 17:18, 27 November 2012
Scientists at the Large Hadron Collider beleive their experiments may have created a new type of matter.
They say, collisions between protons and lead ions at the LHC have resulted in surprising behavior in some of the particles created by the collisions.
This suggests the collisions may have produced a new type of matter known as colour-glass condensate, as reported on MIT news.
When beams of particles crash into each other at high speeds, the collisions yield hundreds of new particles, most of which fly away from the collision point at close to the speed of light.
However, the Compact Muon Solenoid team observed that in 2million lead-proton collisions, some pairs of particles flew away from each other with their respective directions correlated.
‘Somehow they fly at the same direction even though it’s not clear how they can communicate their direction with one another. That has surprised many people, including us,’ says MIT physics professor Gunther Roland, whose group led the analysis of the collision data along with Wei Li, an assistant professor at Rice University.
This dense swarm of gluons may also produce the unusual collision pattern seen in proton-lead collisions, says Raju Venugopalan, a senior scientist at Brookhaven National Laboratory, who was not involved in the current research but has previously researched the subject.
Venugopalan and his former student Kevin Dusling theorised the existence of colour-glass condensate shortly before the particle direction correlation was seen in proton-proton collisions.
While protons at normal energy levels consist of three quarks, they tend to gain an accompanying cluster of gluons at higher energy levels.
These gluons exist as both particles and waves, and their wave functions can be correlated with each other.
This ‘quantum entanglement’ explains how the particles that fly away from the collision can share information such as direction of flight path, Venugopalan says.
The correlation is ‘a very tiny effect, but it’s pointing to something very fundamental about how quarks and gluons are arranged spatially within a proton,’ he says.
The CMS researchers originally set out to use the lead-proton collisions as a ‘reference system’ for comparison with lead-lead collisions.
‘You don’t expect quark gluon plasma effects’ with lead-proton collisions, Roland says.
‘It was supposed to be sort of a reference run—a run in which you can study background effects and then subtract them from the effects that you see in lead-lead collisions.’
That run lasted only four hours, but in January, the CMS collaboration plans to do several weeks of lead-proton collisions, which should allow them to establish whether the collisions really are producing a liquid, Roland says.
This should help narrow down the possible explanations and determine if the effects seen in proton-proton, lead-proton and lead-lead collisions are related.
New York State’s Department of Health is finally assessing the dangers — but is there time to address them?
The good news is that a public health department— New York State’s Department of Health (DOH)— is finally undertaking an assessment of fracking’s likely health risks. The bad news is that it’s questionable whether it will allow adequate time to do a credible and complete job. So says a new scientific watchdog group launched to assure that science, rather than expediency prevails.
Up until now government has relied on the gas industry’s blanket assurances of safety. The industry routinely tries to conflate the safety of vertical gas drilling (in use for a over a century) with horizontal fracking (in use for a little over a decade), a method which deploys a potent arsenal of chemicals so hazardous they defy known waste treatment methods.
Led by Dr. David O. Carpenter, director of the Institute for Health and the Environment at the University at Albany’s School of Public Health, the new group, Concerned Health Professionals of New York, represents hundreds of health professionals. (Others are welcome to join at their Web site.) Their goal is assuring that the Health Impact Assessment currently requested by New York’s Governor Andrew Cuomo, is comprehensive, complete and conducted transparently. And to help that process, they have compiled health research and reports on their Web site to make sure that there are no omissions.
Fracking’s Four Biggest Biophysical Risks
There are five areas of concern, detailed in the research the doctors have collated, about the biophysical risks.
1. Radioactive wastewater
The higher levels of radioactive materials, released through drilling from Marcellus shale, exceed EPA’s maximum contaminant safety levels by 1,000-fold. Due to infrequent testing, it’s unlikely that radioactivity in public water would be detected prior to mass consumption, with exposure resulting in “anemia, cataracts, cancer, and increased mortality,” according to a CDC toxicological profiles report.
With radon exposure, the second leading cause of lung cancer in the U.S., the radon present in the shale will readily mix with the gas and travel with it via pipeline into the homes and businesses of its end users.
Exhaust from trucks and industrial equipment increases smog in both rural locations and travels downstate to impair air quality in regional urban environments.
4. Chemical contamination of drinking water
Over time, most well casings fail. When fracking fluids seep from them to connect with underground fissures, previously abandoned wells, and natural faults and fractures, the contaminants and methane can readily migration over long distances into underground water ways and fresh drinking water sources.
Five Main Systemic Obstacles to Protecting Health From Fracking
In addition to the biophysical vectors, is the overarching context for assessing, preventing or treating the resulting diseases. To make an accurate assessment, it’s necessary to consider:
1. The long latency of many illnesses
A higher incidence of asthma, cancer, heart disease and the effects of endocrine disruption on developing fetuses and children, due to contaminant exposure, only become evident over time. To prevent disease rather than incur its high human and economic costs, it’s best to intervene prior to exposure, rather than act in hindsight.
2. The lack of medical know-how
Conventional medicine does not recognize, no less treat, symptoms and illnesses resulting from increasing toxic chemicals exposures. Treatment of cancer and radiation-related conditions is a medical specialty.
3. The conflicts of interests affecting scientific findings
According to studies cited in a 2012 meeting presentation before the NY DEC, industry-funded studies can result in findings that “benefit sponsors, (are based on) poor study design, and (withhold) negative data from publication.”
4. The lack of accurate health data gathering
“A pall of ignorance hangs over fracking,” says biologist Sandra Steingraber. “Emissions data, monitoring data, exposure data–these are the things you need in order to judge health effects, and where are they?”
They are largely absent due to the state governments which, like Pennsylvania, welcome fracking, but often fail to ascertain what happens to public health afterward. For example, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (PADEP) neither adequately monitors nor collects health data. According to many PA citizen groups, it is singularly unresponsive to citizen’s reports, which are neither noted nor investigated until they have been personally reviewed by the governor, who understandably is too busy to get to them.
When local water supplies become contaminated in the aftermath of fracking, many citizens are forced to sign non-disclosure agreements in order to receive trucked-in water from the gas companies. Finally, as health problems in PA communities have emerged, the PA legislature attempted (so far unsuccessfully) to instate Act 13, an ALEC model bill that actually prohibits physicians from disclosing to patients and communities when fracking chemicals appear in people’s bloodstreams.
Unless overcome, ultimately, all of the above could result in a higher incidence of disease.
5. Increased health care costs
Increase costs can be projected for New York, based on increased costs incurred in other states. According to the same presentation on the Health Professionals Web site these include:
Costs related to acute effects from hydrofracking operations include doctor visits, laboratory tests, medications, emergency room visits and hospitalization due to acute medical disorders,acute exacerbations of existing chronic diseases (asthma, chronic obstructive lung disease (COPD), congestive heart disease, exposure to radioactive materials, ingestion of contaminated water, inhalation of contaminated air, traffic accidents involving heavy duty trucks, and trauma from on-site accidents.
Where Does the NY State Health Review Stand?
The overriding socio-political context of “if I don’t look for it, it’s not there” makes the NY DOH Health Impact Assessment (HIA) an important milestone not only for New York but for the nation as a whole. Staffed with bona fide health experts in the last two weeks, the NY HIA is the first systemic look at across-the-board health effects to be undertaken by any governmental body at the federal state or local level.
But unfortunately, Governor Cuomo’s recent decision to extend the current proposed guidelines (called the SGEIS) for 90 days and invite public comment soon – before the health review is complete—undermines the entire process, experts say.
“How can the state of New York ask three outstanding public health experts to evaluate the many risks of fracking — radiation, diesel exhaust, silica dust, traffic noise, toxic spills — and give them a few weeks to do the job? said David O. Carpenter. “It’s ridiculous.”
“Issuing (the guidelines) prematurely undermines the reviews altogether,” agrees attorney Kate Sinding of the Natural Resources Defense Council. According to Sinding, “Delivering a set of unfinished revised rules – ones that don’t reflect the results of the ongoing health and environmental reviews” means that the rules won’t contain any way to address any health risks identified by the health expert reviewers.
Instead, Sinding urges that the governor “take the time necessary to get this right. Rushing ahead with fracking now – with health and environmental reviews still pending – would be a foolish and irresponsible move.”