What are the chances that we could avoid this in South Africa? Community health sacrificed for company information and profits? Is this surprising? Can we expect the Department of Minerals to represent the mining companies or our citizens?
State law inspired book on fracking
A state law preventing doctors from telling patients what chemicals they were exposed to from natural gas operations motivated Walter Brasch to write a book.
“Fracking Pennsylvania: Flirting with Disaster” contains the information that Brasch found after looking into the gas industry, an investigation that began when Pennsylvania enacted Act 13 of 2012.
A provision of the act allows doctors to ask companies what chemicals they use in fracking fluids injected into underground gas wells, but a strict reading of the law forbids them from telling what they learn to patients or the community.
A doctor might find out his patient is sick from a chemical used in the process, whereas another doctor might remain clueless about the illness of a patient in the same neighborhood, Brasch said.
“In public health, you need to know the clusters and patterns,” Brash said in an interview.
He said the fluids injected with sand and water deep into the ground to fracture rock and release natural gas vary from area to area. Once a company signs a lease, no other company needs the formula for that area, yet the industry protects the formulas as trade secrets.
“If they don’t tell us what’s in it, how do we combat accidents? I think they don’t want to tell us how toxic this stuff is,” Brasch said.
A report done for the U.S. House of Representatives in April 2011 said about 650 of 750 chemicals known to be used in fracking cause cancer, his book reports.
The book tells of a nurse in an emergency room who went into organ failure after being exposed to the clothes of a worker splashed by fracking fluid in Durango, Colo., in 2008. She nearly died, but the gas company threatened to pull its proprietary products out of Colorado if forced to reveal their contents.
The gas industry is exempt from a national right-to-know law, which lets people learn what chemicals and toxins are used at facilities.