Sunday, November 11, 2012

The Radioactive Genie in the Fracking Bottle

Last week in Albany, we released a report that finds that horizontal hydrofracking in New York State is likely to produce significantly higher amounts of radioactive waste than previously believed, and that the NYS DEC has not demonstrated the ability to properly analyze the potential impact of radiation exposure or take adequate steps to protect the public.
Once radioactive material comes up out of the ground along with the gas, the problem is what to do with it. The radioactivity lasts for tens of thousands of years, and it is virtually impossible to eliminate or mitigate. Sooner or later, it's going to end up in our environment and eventually our food chain. It's a problem with no good solution.

According to the EPA, exposure to radium increases the risk of cancer. Radium also decays into radon, which is the second leading cause of lung cancer. The EPA has been extremely critical of New York State's plans for dealing with the radiation from fracking, but no one seems to be paying much attention. So we commissioned the report. 

The report, Consideration of Radiation in Hazardous Waste Produced from Horizontal Hydrofracking, was authored by Ivan White, a career scientist with the Congressionally-chartered National Council on Radiation Protection. There he helped develop computer programs for radiation risk assessment and assisted in the formulation of national policies on radiation protection for civilian and military personnel.

"Radioactive materials and chemical wastes do not just go away when they are released into the environment. They remain active and potentially lethal, and can show up years later in unexpected places," writes White. " They bio-accumulate in the food chain, eventually reaching humans. Under the proposal for horizontal hydrofracking in New York State, there are insufficient precautions for monitoring potential pathways or to even know what is being released into the environment."

See our new flyer on radioactive waste. 

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Growing Up With Nature Part I

When I was a child I lived in a neighborhood with a brook!  Every house that backed up on that brook had a little bridge that crossed over the brook and into the woods.  We spent our summers launching stick boats and racing from bridge to bridge to watch them magically appear from under the overhangs.  On really hot days, we just sat down in the cool, clean water and buried our toes in the sandy bottom.

Memories of a childhood that seamlessly interwove the natural environment into  everyday lives are sadly, not that common today.  

Our children growing up in suburbia tend to spend their leisure or play time inside of houses, cars and malls, attached by their fingertips to electronic devices.  The feel of plastic keys for them is normal.  They drown out the sound of rustling leaves in the wind and birds singing with the ear buds attached to ipods.  If they play sports, more and more of them are playing on artificial turf surfaces - toxic rubber pellets packed into green dyed and lead filled plastic grass carpets. 

So what is this doing to our children?  Some call the phenomenon "Nature Deficit Disorder".  I say it is robbing our children of their birthright…of the essence of being alive on this planet.

Monday, October 8, 2012

The Truth About Breast Cancer

• Seventy percent of women with breast cancer have no family history and no other risk factors


• Mammograms do not protect against breast cancer, and actually deliver ionizing radiation directly to breast tissue. 

• Anyone can print a pink ribbon on a product label and say they're donating to the fight against breast cancer.

• Many of the corporate sponsors of the Pink Ribbon Campaign manufacture products with ingredients linked to breast cancer.   

*  *  *  

Many women will tell you that breast cancer runs in their family. But researchers estimate that less than 10% of breast cancer cases are related to genetics. 

The truth is that breast cancer may run in families because families share their environment - the air they breathe, the water they drink, the food they eat and the products they use.  

For years, women have walked for the cure, urged their mothers and sisters and friends to get their mammograms, and purchased pink ribbon products that claim that a percentage of their sales will be donated to breast cancer research.

But with all that walking, urging and purchasing, the incidence of breast cancer has increased. The American Cancer Society predicts that more than 230,000 new cases will be diagnosed this year. More than 40,000 will die. A woman's chance of developing breast cancer in 1940 was 1 in 22.  Today it's 1 in 7. 

The fact is, women are getting the wrong message about breast cancer. The message they need to hear it that we can take steps to reduce our risk of breast and other cancers, that we have choices for different (less risky) screening techniques, that we need to protect our young pre-teen daughters when they are most vulnerable, and that our voices together can make a difference in this fight.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Lying to the EPA

The Scotts Miracle-Gro company has agreed to pay millions of dollars in criminal fines for misleading the public, lying to the EPA and knowingly contaminating their bird seed products with pesticides known to be toxic to birds. 

Professional applicators and homeowners using pesticides are more aware than ever about the potentially serious health effects of pesticides, in humans, pets and wildlife. Because of this, many more people are reading warning labels on pesticide products and trying to use them responsibly. When a product manufacturer lies about such inherently dangerous products, it is truly a criminal act.

Last week, Scotts Miracle-Gro pleaded guilty to eleven criminal violations of the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA). The $12.5 million dollar fine was the largest criminal penalty under FIFRA to date. Scotts admitted falsifying pesticide registration documents, selling pesticides with misleading and unapproved labels and distributing unregistered pesticides, in addition to applying toxic and potentially lethal insecticides to its wild bird food products. 

Although everyone should avoid pesticide exposures, children, pregnant women and the chronically ill are particularly vulnerable. Children take in more pesticides relative to their body weight than adults and have immature organ systems that are more vulnerable and less able to detoxify the chemicals contained in pesticides. They are also disproportionately exposed because of their behavior, playing in the grass and on floors and engaging in typical hand- to -mouth behavior. Childhood malignancies associated with living in households where pesticides are used include neuroblastoma, Wilm's tumor, Ewing's sarcoma, non-Hodgkin's lymphoma and cancers of the brain, colorectum and testes.

Along with other environmental health groups, we work very hard to educate the public about the links between common environmental toxins and human health and encourage non-toxic solutions to pest problems whenever possible. If someone decides to use a pesticide, the label should clearly indicate proper handling as well as the potential short term and long term health effects of the product even when used according to the label. It is highly irresponsible for a manufacturer of these poisons to ignore or even intentionally challenge federal laws intended to protect the public.

Monday, September 10, 2012


Until you see it for yourself, you can't fully appreciate what fracking does to a community. As Patti and I drove deep into the hills of Pennsylvania just south of the New York border, the first thing we noticed was the trucks on the road.

It's not just that they're really big. It's that there are so many of them. One after another, they race along tiny back roads, gears grinding, exhaust stacks belching and engines roaring as they head to or from fracking sites carrying steel tubes, diesel engines, silica sand, fracking chemicals, fresh water or toxic waste - destined for who knows where?

White pickup trucks dart around the countryside like large beetles carrying men in hard hats with grim expressions. (White, signifying purity, seems to be the color of choice for oil and gas companies and their ubiquitous security teams that keep onlookers and other undesirables - like us - far away from actual fracking sites.)

All over Susquehanna County, large swaths of forest and pastures are being hacked out and excavated to make way for giant pipelines used to connect the gas wells with sprawling compressor sites miles away. These gashes in the landscape serve as an apt metaphor for what's going on inside the community, as fracking - and the money it might bring to some - has divided families, neighbors and towns in a battle over the right of some to endanger the environment for all.

We met some truly amazing individuals on our visit  to Susquehanna County - brave, inspiring individuals who are standing up for what's right, refusing to back down in the face of almost inconceivable odds. We were humbled to be in their presence and witness their strength of character.

We're creating some radio spots featuring the voices of the people we met in Pennsylvania. We hope their stories can inform the debate on fracking in New York. 

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Creating Science

In his recent mini-documentary "Is the Sky Pink?," filmmaker Josh Fox touches on one of the key reasons why government is so often stymied in its efforts to protect public health.  So long as there is a "debate" over something, regulation and legislation can be postponed until the science becomes "clear."  

And so long as there are scientists and academic institutions ready to abandon ethics when money comes along, "debates" can be manufactured to suit the circumstances, and efforts to protect public health can be delayed indefinitely.

A recent article in Bloomberg News illustrates how oil and gas companies engaged in fracking have paid research scientists and even state universities to literally create science that supports fracking.  The practice gives new meaning to the term "creationism."

Last week, Grassroots compiled and delivered to NY Governor Cuomo a Digest of Independent Science on Fracking. By "independent," we mean just that - studies and reports that were conducted by scientists for whom the word integrity still has meaning, and who respect the role of honest science in helping to inform - rather than obfuscate - the public discourse. 

We salute their work, and sincerely hope that the Governor will take the time to read through the Digest we delivered to him. If he does, he'll know exactly what to do about fracking in New York. 

Friday, January 6, 2012

What Does the DOH Know About Fracking?

On April 25, 2011 Grassroots filed a Freedom of Information Law request with the NYS DOH, asking for all communications between the DOH and the DEC on the issue of human health effects related to fracking. We were hoping to receive this information during the DEC's public comment period, since health issues have dominated much of the public discussion. (The comment period ends January 11th).

The DOH failed four times over the past eight months to meet their own response deadlines, most recently on December 23rd. The delay now stands at 256 days.

We believe the DOH is engaged in effective denial of our request in violation of the law. Given that DEC Commissioner Martens has testified that the DOH was "intensely involved" with the DEC on the issue of fracking, and given the high degree of public interest over human health issues related to fracking, this decision by the DOH to withhold information vital to the public interest is deeply troubling.

We are appealing the DOH action, but it will take time to go through the legal process required before court action can be initiated. In the meantime we encourage all of those who share our concerns to call Dr. Nirav Shah, the Commissioner of the DOH at (518) 474-2011 and demand release of the information.