Photo by rocketjim54 via flickr
The EPA released controversial findings from incomplete tests on wells from the rural town of Dimock, Pennsylvania on March 15. These findings indicate that the 11 wells that were tested did not contain levels of methane and other chemicals that would be dangerous to human health. However, the findings do show that the well water tested from these homes does, indeed, contain contaminants.
Dimock has been making national headlines since 2009 when residents publicly denounced the hydraulic fracturing process as a danger to local water supplies. a town that has made national headlines due to potential well water contamination linked to hydraulic fracturing. Preliminary results from the EPA’s most recent rounds of tests demonstrate that well water from 11 homes is indeed contaminated with methane and various other chemicals, just not in levels high enough that officials are concerned. The EPA maintains that the chemicals detected are in amounts within safe ranges determined by the agency. This assertion from the agency does not assuage local residents, though, and the EPA has yet to release the actual test results.
Residents received this information on the heels of a controversial and dangerous new law – HB 1950 – that gags health care professionals from warning residents about potential health hazards associated with the hydraulic fracturing process. This process, aka. “fracking”, requires millions of gallons of water be forcefully injected thousands of feet underground to fracture shale rock formations, releasing natural gas, which is then collected, stored, and transported above ground. The water used to crack the rock is combined with various dangerous chemical compounds, all of which returns to the surface in a toxic brine. These chemicals have been linked to the contamination of drinking wells, which can be so severe that residents can light their tap water on fire.
So, while the EPA begins their testing of drinking wells in great Commonwelath of Pennsylvania, the state legislature has set the foundation for a toxic cover-up. According to an article on Truth-out.org, HB 1950 prevents doctors from obtaining information from natural gas companies and warning residents of the potential health risks of fracking in their communities: “Physicians and others who work with citizen health issues may request specific information, but the company doesn’t have to provide that information if it claims it is a trade secret or proprietary information, nor does it have to reveal how the chemicals and gases used in fracking interact with natural compounds. If a company does release information about what is used, health care professionals are bound by a non-disclosure agreement that not only forbids them from warning the community of water and air pollution that may be caused by fracking, but which also forbids them from telling their own patients what the physician believes may have led to their health problems. A strict interpretation of the law would also forbid general practitioners and family practice physicians who sign the non-disclosure agreement and learn the contents of the “trade secrets” from notifying a specialist about the chemicals or compounds, thus delaying medical treatment.”
Pennsylvania legislators appear to be working with federal regulators to ensure the fast-paced development of the area’s natural gas reserves. This same law that prevents physicians from working together to protect residents also prevents local governments from protecting residents and their land. To learn more about which lawmakers don’t give a frack about their constituents’ health, check out PennEnvironment’s Marcellus Shale Scorecard, which tracks votes regarding the environment, public health, and the power of local government.