Health professionals call for fracking moratorium

31st March 2015

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Jared Joseph-White

Hydraulic fracturing for shale gas poses significant risks to public health and there should be an immediate moratorium to allow time for a comprehensive health and environmental impact assessment to be completed, according to Medact, the health professionals body.

In a report, Medact says the precise level of risk to human health cannot be calculated and emphasises that intensive levels of fracking activity could pose additional risks in the UK because of the close proximity of proposed sites to people.

Public health issues highlighted in the report include: the potential hazards associated with air and water pollution; the negative impacts related to noise, traffic and damage to the natural environment; and the indirect effects on climate change from additional greenhouse-gas emissions.

Dr David McCoy, director at Medact, said: “Medact, alongside a wider group of health professionals, has called for a moratorium on fracking because of the serious risks it poses to public health. Fracking has already been suspended in Wales and Scotland because of health and climate risks and New York state has banned fracking because of the ‘significant health risks’.”

According to the Medact report, oxides of nitrogen, hydrogen sulphide, formaldehyde, benzene, ethylene, toluene, particulate matter and ground-level ozone are among the more significant airborne health hazards. Contamination of surface and groundwater caused by gas leakages, fracking fluid, or wastewater combined with a range of new materials generated from underground – including lead, arsenic, chromium, cadmium; and naturally occurring radioactive material – are also highlighted.

The health effects of these different hazards vary depending on the type and pattern of human exposure, but they include increased risks of cancer, respiratory disease and birth defects, says the report. In a letter to the British Medical Journal supporting the moratorium, a number of prominent health care professionals state: “The arguments against fracking on public health and ecological grounds are overwhelming. There are clear grounds for adopting the precautionary principle and prohibiting fracking.”

Public Health England’s review of the potential public health impacts of fracking, which describes the risk to human health as low if operations are managed effectively, is criticised in the Medact report. It says Public Health England’s review fails to critically assess the adequacy and reliability of the regulatory system, which Mdact says is “incomplete and inadequately robust”.

Friends of the Earth energy and climate change campaigner, Rose Dickinson said: “This report adds to the growing concern about the health risks of fracking. No community should be used as a guinea pig for the fracking industry.”

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