Back in March, when the NY legislature was haggling over the state budget, the Assembly added a $100,000 line item for a health impact study on the public health impacts of fracking. As assemblywoman Barbara Lifton explains, “A health study is supposed to be part of an environmental impact study to begin with.” Indeed, the State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQR) lists a number of environmental factors that must be taken into account before beginning a project: land, air, water, agricultural resources, community character, and human health.
But the Senate and Governor Andrew Cuomo axed the health study because, they said, the state regulators needed to finish the environmental review. Also, eliminating the study saved taxpayers $100,000 – a whopping 0.00007 percent of the recently approved $132.6 billion budget.
Lifton isn’t the only one asking for a health impact study - and she’s not the first. Last October more than 250 health professionals signed on to a letter asking state officials to study health risks related to gas drilling before permitting hydraulic fracturing in the state.
Meanwhile, information on health impacts from other drilling states piles up – much of it focusing on the impacts of air quality impaired by drilling activities.
- December 2011- Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) finds that releases of volatile organic compounds from oil and gas operations increased 60 percent over five years.
- TCEQ found elevated benzene levels at 21 of 94 Barnett well sites tested.
- Baylor University reported a higher incidence of asthma in children living in the Barnett shale region: asthma rates for children in Tarrant County were more than twice the national average.
- In 2011 the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) reported higher levels of methane, butane, propane and other chemicals coming out of the gas fields of northern Colorado and eastern Utah. And Wyoming’s drilling fields report ozone levels as high as 124 parts per billion (ppb) – higher than Los Angeles levels and far higher than EPA’s maximum level of 75 ppb. link; NOAA
- March 2012 - researchers at the Colorado School of Public Health report that air pollution caused by hydraulic fracturing may contribute to acute and chronic health problems for people living near drilling sites. They identified a number of potentially toxic hydrocarbons in the air near wells: benzene, ethylbenzene, toluene, xylene, heptane, octane, diethylbenzene and more.
Oh yeah – the price tag of the Colorado study: $150,000, funded by Garfield County. That’s only half again what the NY Assembly asked for in the state budget.
The cost for such a study isn’t the problem. The real question is: why isn’t the NY Department of Environmental Conservation following State environmental law (SEQR) and conducting a health impact study as part of the SGEIS?