Fracking Linked to Increased Radon Levels in Homes: Study

Researchers from Johns Hopkins indicate that hydraulic fracturing operations, more commonly known as “fracking”, may be causing elevated levels of radon gas in some Pennsylvania homes, adding to the concerns about dangers associated with the controversial gas mine extraction procedure. 

Pennsylvania counties with the highest increases in radon levels in homes are also the same counties that have seen the biggest increases in fracking, operations, according to the findings of a study published online last week by the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.

Hydraulic fracturing involves the injection of a mixture of water, sands and fluids, the composition of which the gas industry has fought to keep secret, into the ground at extremely high pressure. This cracks open shale deposits and frees trapped natural gas, which can then be removed. Those fluids are then sucked from the ground and often disposed of in wastewater wells or through wastewater treatment plants.

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Critics have linked fracking to a variety of pollutants, claiming it puts groundwater sources at risk and that increased truck traffic, air pollution and other problems can reduce property values and sicken nearby residents.

Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health researchers looked at first floor and basement indoor radon levels found by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (PADEP) from 1987 to 2013. They then looked at associations between those levels and geology, water sources, building characteristics and a number of other factors in addition to gas mining measures. The PADEP data involved nearly 900,000 buildings, mostly homes.

According to the findings, after 2004 radon levels began to increase in counties with 100 or more hydraulic fracturing wells. The time period marked a boom in hydraulic fracturing across the state. Other factors in radon levels appeared to be whether the buildings used well water and the type of rock the buildings were constructed above.

Radon is a carcinogen and is the second-leading cause of lung cancer in the U.S. It is believed to be responsible for 21,000 lung cancer deaths in this country every year.

Fracking Environmental Concerns

The study comes as activists continue to push for states to ban or more heavily regulate hydraulic fracturing. Just south of Pennsylvania in Maryland, where Johns Hopkins is located, the group Food & Water Watch has launched a new ad campaign calling for a ban on fracking in Maryland.

The commercials star the actor Edward Norton, who is a Maryland native, pushing for the Maryland General Assembly to pass a bill known as the Protect Our Health and Communities Act, which includes a long-term moratorium on fracking.

Environmentalists, a number of lawmakers, local communities and consumer advocacy groups have expressed concerns for years that hydrofracking presents a threat to groundwater supplies and the environment.

The state of New York decided to ban hydraulic fracturing late last year, after a state study found questions and concerns regarding the safety of large-scale extraction wells.

State officials said that a six-year study’s findings indicate dozens of significant potential adverse impacts, and found that the risks of high-volume hydraulic fracturing outweigh any potential economic benefits.

Last year, a Texas jury awarded $2.9 million in damages to a family who sued a hydraulic fracturing company for being a public nuisance. According to allegations raised in a fracking lawsuit filed by the Parr family, nearly two dozen wells near their property caused a private nuisance, exposing them to toxic chemicals that damaged their health and lowered property value.

Recently, a number of studies have shown that there may be a link between fracking and earthquakes, suggesting that the intense pressure from the unidentified fluids can cause ground tremors violent enough to damage property and cause injuries and possibly deaths.


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