Toxic Tuesdays

CHEJ highlights several toxic chemicals and the communities fighting to keep their citizens safe from harm.

Hydraulic fracturing

Hydraulic fracturing (commonly known as fracking) is a technique that uses pressurized liquid to fracture bedrock in order to the extract the oil or gas inside. The process installs a steel pipe into a well bore and injects fracking fluid into the deep layers of rock. Once the rock is no longer able to absorb this fluid, it cracks. Materials in the fracking fluid keep these cracks open so the oil or gas beneath can flow freely and be collected. Fracking fluid usually consists of water, sand or beads, and a mixture of chemicals. After injection into the rock, some fracking fluid remains underground and some flows back to the surface. This flowback is meant to be collected for disposal.

Many of the chemicals used in fracking fluid are not publicly known. However, some of the ones that are known have harmful effects on human health, including causing cancer. Some of these dangerous chemicals in fracking fluid include: benzene, ethylbenzene, naphthalene, methanol, formaldehyde, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), and 1,2-dichloroethane. And with hundreds of thousands to millions of gallons of liquid being used to fracture a single well, these chemicals can be dangerous even if they constitute a small percentage of the fracking fluid. In fact, flowback has been found to have levels of some of these chemicals that far exceed the Environmental Protection Agency’s limits for safe water. People can be exposed to these chemicals through contamination of drinking water supplies, physical contact with the flowback waste, or inhaling chemicals after they evaporate into the air from open-air waste pits. A 2010 report summarized health effects from 353 chemicals in fracking fluid, including skin, respiratory, liver, brain, immune, kidney, heart, and blood disorders.

Liveable Arlington is a grassroots organization founded in 2015 to fight fracking and drilling in Arlington, Texas in order to protect their air and water. In particular, they are concerned about the health impacts on children due to wells located close to residences, schools, and day care centers. In 2020 their organizing helped stop the issuance of permits for new gas wells near a local preschool. In 2021 they helped pressure their city council to revise an ordinance to increase the required distance between a drilling zone and day care centers. Liveable Arlington proves that local grassroots efforts can win local fights to keep our communities safe.

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