Toxic Tuesdays

Hydrofracking: Radiation Risk

Toxic Tuesdays

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

Hydrofracking: Radiation Risks

Hydraulic fracturing, or hydrofracking, is a process for accessing gas and oil deep within the earth. The process involves creating a well and drilling about one mile deep into the ground. Once it has been dug deep enough, cement is poured into the opening around a steel pipe to create a barrier between the fracking process and underground water sources. Then the drilling continues deeper into the earth, this time at an angle until it becomes horizontal. The length of that horizontal drilling can last up to three miles in length. Next, more cement is poured around the hole to create a barrier with the surrounding environment. Then a perforating gun is sent down the well into the horizontal section. There, it punctures the bedrock, creating multiple cracks that are 30 inches deep.

These cracks, or fissures, are created so that water, sand, and chemicals can be sent down into those newly made cracks. The water mixture causes further fracturing, like giant tree branches, in the bedrock that goes deep into the ground and releases oil and gas. The resource-intensive process can use up to 9.7 million gallons of water per one well. In addition, the wastewater that comes back from this process is radioactive and full of toxic chemicals that are hazardous to human health.

All that water then becomes unusable because of the naturally occurring radioactivity brought up from the ground with the waste. The health effects of the radioactive wastewater on humans are vast. The radioactivity is caused by the “naturally-occurring radionuclides” that are made up of uranium, thorium, and radium. These elements are hazardous to human health and can cause adverse health effects and even death with exposure to high levels, or concentrations, of the chemicals in the fracking water. Other than the radioactive chemicals found in fracking water, the industry also mixes over 1000 other chemicals into the water. These can include, but are not limited to, lead, PFAS (forever chemicals), ammonia, hormone disrupting chemicals, diesel, benzene and diesel. Exposure to these chemicals in the fracking wastewater can cause cancers, such as leukemiahematologic (blood)urinary, and thyroid cancers. Exposure can also cause developmental health issues in children and neuromotor skill impairment. Heart disease is another area of concern, with communities close to hydrofracking sites having significantly higher heart attack rates.

Currently, most of the wastewater is stored in underground wells, but this storage solution can seep into the water supply in a variety of ways, as discussed in a peer-reviewed article published by Environmental Health Perspectives. Radioactive fracking wastewater can end up in so many different areas, from drinking water to consumer items. The reason why this is allowed has to do with the Safe Drinking Water Act of 2005 and the creation of the Halliburton Loophole. The loophole prevented the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from regulating the fracking industry or its wastewater. That means radioactive wastewater can end up in drinking water, but the agency cannot confront the company responsible.

Despite claims from fracking companies that the fracking-contaminated water is appropriately handled, radioactive wastewater finds its way back into the environment. The fracking wastewater can even be found in store-bought items. For example, the product AquaSalina is a de-icer that is sold in stores such as Home Depot and Lowe’s and contains the harmful chemicals. This product is available for public purchase and was even used by the state of Ohio. In 2019 alone, the Ohio Department of Transportation used a million gallons of the product. Outcry and protests from the impacted communities and environmental groups lasted for years until the state of Ohio agreed to ban the use of the product on their roads.

How can you take action on this issue? Contact your Congressional representatives today to let them know you support the reintroduction of H.R.2133, the FRESHER Act of 2021. The proposed bill would give the EPA the power to control wastewater discharge from oil and gas operations – meaning fracking wastewater would have regulation at the federal level.

Learn about more toxics


Remembering the bombing at Hiroshima Japan – 75th Anniversary

Survivors of the world’s first atomic bombing gathered in diminished numbers near an iconic, blasted dome Thursday to mark the attack’s 75th anniversary, many of them urging the world, and their own government, to do more to ban nuclear weapons. Read more.


Locals thank Army official for approving Lewiston nuclear cleanup

The citizens’ committee which for years has urged removal of nuclear waste from a federally owned Lewiston site issued a statement Thursday thanking Assistant Secretary of the Army R.D. James for moving ahead with the project.
James’ signature on the plan late Monday “was like manna from heaven,” said Amy H. Witryol, secretary of the Lake Ontario Ordnance Works Restoration Advisory Board.
James’ action came after complaints last week from the board and the Niagara County Legislature about a 39-month wait for approval of the $490 million Corps of Engineers plan to clean up the Niagara Falls Storage Site on Pletcher Road. It has been the repository of waste from the World War II atomic bomb project. Congress, however, may not appropriate the funding until 2025, a Corps official said.
Read the press release from the Lake Ontario Ordnance Works Restoration Advisory Board here.

Homepage News Archive

Chemicals Reduce Childrens IQs

If you are interested in how many small amounts of chemicals can directly impact children’s IQ you need to spend a few minutes watching this video. CHEJ’s members have been frustrated by the regulatory agencies and their lack of willingness to address multiple chemical exposures. Most recently the Just Moms group in St. Louis, MO were told that a leader’s family has levels of radiation in their kitchen 200 times above background. How in the world do  you make Thanksgiving dinner in a kitchen full of radiation? Moreover, how can you have a family dinner when no one wants to come to your house? Along with the radiation are toxic chemicals that come from the burning landfill daily. EPA says they need to do more testing. How much evidence does the agency need before they move the people?
Karen Nickel with Just Moms STL says, “Allowing people to live inside of homes that are contaminated with the world’s oldest nuclear weapons waste is unacceptable and extremely irresponsible. For over five years, the community has endured breathing in toxic fumes from the underground fire at the landfill and there’s no clear end in sight. The Missouri Attorney General indicates a Chernobyl-like event could occur if/when the underground fire collides with the Manhattan Project waste. The schools in the area are on alert for a shelter-in-place event and have asked parents to stock-pile their children’s medication at school in the event they cannot be released. There is a higher than normal incidence of brain cancer in children under 17 in areas around the West Lake Landfill. Families are sick with bloody noses, asthma, and other respiratory illness and often keep children indoors because the toxic odors are so bad.”

Just Moms STL is calling on EPA Federal Administrator Gina McCarthy to use her power under CERCLA and Governor Jay Nixon to relocate families today.

Backyard Talk

70 Years Later: Dropping the Nuclear Bomb

On August 6th 70 years ago, the U.S. government dropped a nuclear bomb on the Japanese city of Hiroshima. Estimates on how many people were killed range from 140,000 to 200,000. It was the first time a nuclear weapon had ever been used in war. Three days later, the U.S. dropped a second bomb on the city of Nagasaki. These events are largely credited for ending World War II.

Tens of thousands gathered at the Peace Memorial Park in Hiroshima on the morning of August 6th to commemorate the dropping of the bomb and to recall the horror of that day 70 years ago. The city has done a remarkable job of memorializing this event and telling the story of what happened to the city and its people in the days following the dropping of the bomb. One photographer who took pictures in the immediate aftermath of the bombing buried his film to be discovered years later, undamaged by the radiation. Many of his photographs can be found in the Peace Memorial Museum that brings the horror to life in vivid black and white images.

I made a visit to Hiroshima several years ago while traveling to Japan for the Rachel Carson Trust of Japan. The exhibits at the Peace Memorial Museum do a remarkable job of reenacting the impact of the bomb on the city and its people. And if that were not enough, the museum hosts a hibakusha or “atomic bomb person” who tells their story of witnessing and surviving the bombing. Their words bring the bombing to life in an unforgettable way. According to a story in the Washington Post, the city is now training young people to be “memory keepers” in order to continue disseminating the tales of the survivors, the average age of whom is 80. There are over 200 atomic bomb story-tellers who are learning the testimonies of the survivors in order to continue telling their stories.

It seems quite important to many of the Japanese people that they not forget how the bombings came about and the devastation caused by the bombings. This sentiment is in stark contrast, however, to the intentions expressed by Japanese Minister Shinzo Abe who supports proposed changes in the Japanese pacifist constitution that was written by its American occupiers in 1945. But many in Japan feel that its pacifist ways have done the country well and challenge Abe not to renounce its existing constitution.

Regardless of how Japan moves forward with its internal struggle to address its role in the war, you cannot help by take-away the key message clearly intended at the museum and peace park and that is the destructive power of nuclear weapons and importance of living in a world without nuclear weapons. A message the U.S. among other countries are reluctant to adopt.