Editor’s Note: Scientist Dr. Theo Colborn, one of the leading experts on the health and environmental impacts of chemicals used to extract oil and gas, recently died at the age of 87. In 2003 Colborn founded The Endocrine Disruption Exchange (TEDX) to disseminate scientific evidence related to endocrine disruptors, chemicals that interfere with development. La Jicarita News published an article in September of 2009 about Colborn’s work with TEDX as communities such as Mora in northern New Mexico anticipated the possibility of oil and gas development. We are republishing the article, with some updated information, in honor of Dr. Colborn.
Potential Hazards of Chemicals Used in Natural Gas Drilling Process, September 2009, La Jicarita News
By KAY MATTHEWS
As communities around the country deal with impending or existing gas and oil exploration they are finding more and more data that confirms their fears about the toxicity of the chemicals used in the extraction process. As I mentioned in the May/June La Jicarita News article about potential natural gas drilling in the Mora Valley, the fracturing process used by the industry to extract the resource uses a wide range of chemicals, including benzene, xylyne, ethylene glycol (antifreeze), tetramethylamonium chloride, and formaldehyde, which can cause cancer in humans (benzene and formaldehyde) and birth defects in fetuses, change DNA, and disrupt endocrine function.
The Endocrine Disruption Exchange, Inc., (TEDX), based in Paonia, Colorado, is an organization that focuses on the human health and environmental problems caused by low-dose and/or ambient exposure to chemicals that interfere with development and function, or endocrine disruption. The endocrine system is a system of glands and hormones that regulates such vital functions as body growth, response to stress, sexual development and behavior, production and utilization of insulin, rate of metabolism, intelligence, and behavior. TEDX is unique in that it focuses on the effects of very low and ambient levels of exposure on developing tissue and resulting function before an individual is born, which can lead to irreversible, chronic disorders expressed at any time throughout the individuals’ lives.
The organization has been looking at the products and chemicals that have reportedly been used during the fracturing of natural gas wells. I say “reportedly” because the industry is not required to disclose what chemicals are used in the process. During the George W. Bush administration, the oil and gas industry was exempted from the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, the Surface Water Run-off Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act, and the Community Right-to-Know Act. Consequently, there is little oversight regarding the hazardous chemicals used in the industry’s hydraulic fracturing process and no way of knowing exactly what formula of chemicals is being used.
Editor’s note: The Bureau of Land Management recently revamped its regulations regarding oil and gas drilling on federal and Indian lands: 1) drillers will have to store wastewater from wells in tanks rather than open-air pits; 2) companies will have to disclose publicly the chemicals they use at each drilling site; and 3) drillers must test all wells before production begins, rather than testing only the first well of a new type. In states that have stricter rules than the new federal requirements, state rules will apply to federal lands. Several states and various industry groups are suing to stop the rules while some Democrats are trying to ban hydraulic fracturing altogether on federal lands.
But TEDX has managed to compile an industry list that includes the names of 43 fracturing products containing 344 chemicals, as of February, 2009. They have compiled that data from Material Data Safety Sheets (information provided to those who handle and ship the products), state Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act Tier II reports, Environmental Impact Statements and Environmental Assessments, and from accident and spill reports. The identity of every chemical used is needed to determine product safety. According to the TEDX report, gas field workers are most likely to be the first exposed to the chemicals used in fracturing, especially to airborne fines, dusts, and volatile compounds. As the chemicals disperse from the pad, those living in proximity to fracturing operations will also be exposed. A health monitoring program for gas field workers and near-by residents could now be established based on the consistent profile of health categories associated with chemicals used during natural gas operations. The organization would like to see full disclosure of the contents of the fracturing fluid used at each state and event of the operation.
In an April 27, 2009 article in Scientific American, Dr. Theo Colborn, TEDX founder, wrote that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is preparing to test 67 pesticide ingredients for their possible endocrine disruption effects. She criticizes the study, however, first recommended in 1998, as “outdated, insensitive, crude, and narrowly limited.” She believes that corporate interests have had too much influence on the design of the testing and that the EPA has ignored the “vast wealth of information” on endocrine disruption from independent researchers. Since the early 1990s independent scientists around the world have demonstrated how a broad selection of chemicals can interfere with the normal development of a baby at “extremely low levels of exposure.” The EPA study continues under the false assumption that “the dose makes the poison” and that high dose testing is sufficient to detect any chemical that can interfere with endocrine control of development and function.
Editor’s Note: I contacted the TEDX to find out if the EPA had responded to Dr. Colborn criticisms of its Endocrine Disruptive Screening Program (EDSP). The organization told me that Dr. Colborn’s opinion on the EDSP had not changed since my article was published in 2009 and that she had been actively working on the issue of endocrine disruption testing and the EDSP last year. On the EPA website it provides a link to a Revised Second List of Chemicals for Tier 1 Screening that was published in June of 2013. The revised list consists of 109 identified chemicals, 41 of which are pesticide active ingredients and 68 are chemicals identified under the Safe Drinking Water Act.
Contaminated Drinking Wells
More and more information is coming in that oil and gas well fracture drilling is contaminating drinking water wells. As part of a Superfund investigation in March of 2009, the EPA began sampling near Pavillion, Wyoming in response to landowners’ concerns. The agency confirmed the presence of 2-butoxyethanol (2-BE), a known constituent used in hydraulic fracture drilling, in three wells. This is the same chemical found in a water well in Colorado near fracture gas wells. According to Dr. Colborn, known health effects of 2-BE include elevated numbers of malignant and non-malignant tumors of the adrenal gland, kidney damage, kidney failure, toxicity to the spleen, the bones in the spinal column and bone marrow, liver cancer, anemia, female fertility reduction, and embryo mortality. For more information you can go to the EarthWorks website.