Update on Hydrofracking

Cuomo to Ban Fracking in New York State, Citing Health Risks

The Cuomo administration announced on Wednesday, December 17, 2014,  that it would ban hydraulic fracturing in New York State, ending years of uncertainty by concluding that the controversial method of extracting oil from deep underground could contaminate the state’s air and water and pose inestimable public-health risks.

“I cannot support high volume hydraulic fracturing in the great state of New York,” said Howard Zucker, the acting commissioner of health.

That conclusion was delivered publicly during a year-end cabinet meeting called by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo in Albany.  It came amid increased calls by environmentalists to ban fracking, which uses water and chemicals to release natural gas trapped in deeply buried shale deposits.

The state has had a de facto ban on the procedure for more than five years, predating Mr. Cuomo’s first term.  The decision also came as oil and gas prices continued to fall in many places around the country, in part because of surging American oil production, as fracking boosted output.

Update on Hydraulic Fracturing

Sheila Bushkin-Bedient, MD, MPH, Geoffrey E. Moore, MD, and
The Preventive Medicine and Family Health Committee
of the Medical Society of the State of New York

Introduction and Background

The potential risks and benefits of high volume hydraulic fracturing, also called “hydrofracking” or “fracking,” have been a source of ongoing debate among physicians, politicians, the oil and gas industry and the general public. The debate is about American self-sufficiency in energy supply, and issues surrounding the American economy, ecology and public health.

Because of growing industrial and political interest in harvesting natural gas reserves trapped within the Marcellus Shale region, New York State physicians have expressed concern about potential short term and long term health consequences of fracking. MSSNY’s Preventive Medicine and Family Health Committee was charged with studying the subject and informing MSSNY policy on fracking, and recommended delaying the onset of operations. MSSNY Council adopted a policy on December 9, 2010 (Position Statement # 90.992) to “support a moratorium on natural gas extraction using high volume hydraulic fracturing in New York State until valid scientific information is available to evaluate the process for its potential effects on human health and the environment.” 1   Access this directly at:    (http://www.mssny.org/mssnycfm/mssnyeditor/file/2011/About/Position_Statements/2011_Position_Statements.pdf )

Following the publication of the Draft Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement by the Department of Environmental Conservation in September 2011, MSSNY responded to the request for comments on November 22, 2011. This letter reiterated MSSNY’s concerns about human health consequences and the impact on the environment. In addition, MSSNY recommended ongoing monitoring and analysis, including a Health Impact Assessment which should be conducted by the New York State Department of Health or a different, non-governmental, health organization.

Hydrofracking will bring jobs to New York, though there is variation in the predictions of how many jobs.  Some existing jobs will likely be lost, however, especially in agriculture and in businesses that support agriculture and rural communities. The environment will be unavoidably affected, as industrial expansion urbanizes the rural landscape. The Preventive Medicine and Family Health Committee maintains the position that it is not possible to balance potential economic benefits with the risks to health and the environment until the Health Impact Assessment is completed.


Environmental Changes from Fracking and Their Impact on Human Health

Environmental changes inevitably accompany natural gas operations. Well pads must be built to support drilling rigs, and dirt roads are created to transport the millions of gallons of water, sand and hydrofracking chemicals to the drilling site. A similar volume of fracking fluid has to be hauled out, too.


These industrial activities disturb the natural environment by:

  • Round-the-clock bright lights, noise pollution, and clouds of dust
  • Air pollution from venting and leaking of toxic gases (including volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and hydrocarbons including benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene and xylene
  • Increased smog production (this occurs when VOCs combine with nitrogen oxides (NOx) from truck exhaust and ground-level ozone
  • Deforestation and loss of land for agriculture and raising livestock
  • Disturbance of wildlife
  • Likely contamination of local water wells, springs, creeks and rivers
  • Likely contamination of pastures, woods and backyards
  • Contamination of fish and wild game from water pollution
  • Loss of recreational space and clean air
  • Leaking of methane, a highly potent greenhouse gas 2-5
  • Increasing the possibility of earthquakes 6,7


Chemicals used in Hydrofracking

Hundreds of chemicals are used throughout all phases of hydrofracking, including drilling, fracturing, extraction of gas and purification of extracted materials. Limited data are available on the chemicals being used in hydrofracking, since manufacturers are allowed to protect their proprietary formulas. The drilling industry is exempt from federal environmental statutes that otherwise require disclosure of this information, under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA, commonly known as the Superfund Act), the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act. 8  In 2005, the so-called Halliburton Loophole in the Energy Policy Act, provided manufacturers additional protection from regulations in the Safe Drinking Water Act.

Fracking fluids are formulated to have special properties that make it easier to drill, fracture, reduce friction, facilitate gas extraction, minimize procedural time, and avoid accidents. While the additives are typically less than 1% of the hydrofracking fluid, such huge volumes (millions of gallons per bore) of water are used that the absolute amount of additives ends up being tens of thousands of gallons. Moreover, when the resulting brine is withdrawn, there are residual compounds from the shale, including naturally-occurring radioactive materials (known as NORM). The resulting brine is toxic, and cannot be cleansed by wastewater treatment facilities. The drilling industry is exempt from being required to handle the brine as industrial waste. Thus, one important issue needing to be addressed in the Health Impact Assessment is the handling of hydrofracking wastes.

Dr. Theo Colborn and colleagues at The Endocrine Disruption Exchange (TEDX) in Colorado recently studied the chemical composition of hydrofracking products used by different drilling companies in various states. 8 They identified almost 1000 chemical products and nearly 650 individual chemicals used in hydrofracking, with at least 59 of them identified as involved in natural gas operations in New York. It is widely believed that there are many more, but these 59 are known with certainty. Using these data, 40 of the 59 chemicals (67.8%) had the potential to cause multiple adverse health effects and 19 (32.2%) were known to potentially cause deleterious effects to the environment. The complete spreadsheet of hydrofracking chemicals can be accessed here:

http://www.endocrinedisruption.org/chemicals.multistate.php  9


Potential Health Effects from Hydrofracking Chemicals

The chemically complex world in which we live today continually exposes us to an abundance of industrial toxins that are in our food, water and air supply. All of us carry an unknown burden of environmental contaminants that affect our health, including unborn fetuses. Many toxins cross the placenta, and newborns today are born with at least  200 to 300 chemical contaminants in their cord blood, 10-15 and  in meconium, 15 amniotic fluid, 16 placenta or in their mother’s breast milk. 12,14  Furthermore, mixtures of different chemicals can act synergistically to potentiate adverse developmental effects 17  and many serious chronic diseases including cancer, later on in life.  These alarming facts caution us to pursue greater awareness and wiser, more carefully regulated approaches to future industrial endeavors such as hydrofracking.


Table 1 shows a list of 12 chemicals used in fracking, or found in the brine drawn out of the well. Most physicians will recognize that these are highly toxic substances.

Table 1:  Selected Toxins Associated with Hydraulic Fracturing

Chemicals Route of Exposure Effects in Humans Effects in Animals
Acetic Anhydride


Eye/skin contact


Highly volatile

Severe irritation of eyes, upperrespiratory mucous membranes
and skin to very low

Permanent corneal scarring

Explosion related injuries

Highly corrosive to eyes,  upperrespiratory mucous membranes

and skin

Direct mortality


Oral – drinking contaminated water 


IARC Group 1 Carcinogen:Adenocarcinoma of the lung
Cancers of skin,  digestive tract,
liver, urinary bladder, kidney,
lymphatic and hematopoietic,

Noncancer chronic effects:
Severe peripheral vascular disease, “blackfoot disease”
Arsenicosis: arsenic poisoning

Carcinogen:Adenocarcinoma of lung

Lymphocytic leukemia



Benzene InhalationOral –drinking contaminated water

IARC Group 1 Carcinogen:Leukemia (acute myelogenous)


Noncancer  acute effects:
Neurological: drowsiness, headaches, unconsciousness, convulsions
Skin, eyes and upper respiratory tract Irritation
GI:  Nausea, vomiting

Noncancer  chronic effects:
Blood dyscrasias, aplastic anemia, excessive bleeding, leukopenia
Developmental: low birth weight,
delayed bone formation

Carcinogen in experimental animalsIn rodents:
Oral cavity
Malignant lymphoma
Lung Cancer
Mammary gland

Noncancer  acute effects:
Neurologic, immunologic,  hematologic
Low toxicity from inhalation
Moderate toxicity from ingestion



Noncancer  chronic effects:

Similar to human findings

Chlorine dioxide Inhalation

Severe respiratory and eye irritant,Congestion of lungs, chronic bronchitis

Mortality at 19 ppm

Severe respiratory and eye irritantPurulent  bronchitis

Mortality at  150-200 ppm

Ethylene glycol(commonly known as antifreeze) Ingestion of contaminated water Acute:Neurotoxicity
Cardiopulmonary effects

Low dose effects: eyes, nose and throat

Hepatic and renal damageFetotoxicity  in rodents


Ingestion in contaminated water or food

IARC Group 1 Carcinogen:Nasopharyngeal and sinonasal  cancer
Lymphohematopoietic cancer


Noncancer  acute effects:
Eye, nose  and throat irritation

Noncancer  chronic effects:
Eye, nose, throat
Skin irritation; contact dermatitis
Menstrual disorders


Carcinogenic in experimental animals:In rodents:
Nasal squamous cell carcinoma
Leiomyosarcoma of stomach, intestines
Lung cancer

Noncancer  acute and chronic effects:
Lesions on nasal epithelium and
lower respiratory system
Weight loss



Dermal contact

IARC Group 2B Carcinogen:Associated with cancer of:
Urinary bladder

Noncancer  effects:
Neurotoxicity (especially  fetal and childhood development)
Kidney damage
Immune system
Cardiovascular system
Male infertility (decreased sperm


Carcinogenic to experimental animals:Adenocarcinoma  of the  kidney
Tumors of brain
Hematopoietic system

Noncancer effects:

Birth defects



Eye/skin contact

Absorption through


IARC Group 3 Carcinogen:
(not classifiable in humans) 

Non cancer acute  effects:
Severe irritation to eyes, skin, mucous membranes
CNS impairment
Damage to liver and kidneys

Mortality following high dose exposure
( 1 gram oral ingestion=lethal,
Death associated with respiratory failure)

Noncancer chronic effects:
Systemic disorders including
Gastrointestinal,  neurological,

Carcinogenic to experimental animals:
Leukemia and lymphomaNon cancer  acute effects:
Severe irritant of eyes (immediate
corneal opacification in rabbits)
Irritant of  upper respiratory
mucous membranes;
Neurotoxic to motor centers in  CNS (twitching, convulsions)
Tachy/bradycardia, hypotension


Noncancer  chronic effects:

Damage to lung, liver, kidneys, heart

Toluene InhalationIngestion IARC Group 3 CarcinogenNoncancer acute effects:
Neurotoxic;  fatigue, drowsiness,
headaches, nausea, unconsciousness
Cardiac arrhythmia
Oral ingestion, high dose=lethal
(associated with severe CNS
depression, pulmonary hemorrhage, myocardial necrosis, and acute tubular renal necrosis)

Noncancer  chronic effects:
CNS depression, ataxia, tremors,
cerebral atrophy,  impaired speech, hearing and vision
Inflammation and degeneration of
nasal epithelium,
Pulmonary lesions

Maternal  Reproductive : increased spontaneous abortions

Developmental: neurotoxicant,
attention deficit, cranial-facial and limb anomalies


Central nervous system depression

Immunosuppressed (increased risk of pulmonary infection)


Impaired hearing
Developmental toxicant

Uranium-238 Ingestion (food, water)Inhalation No information on acute effects.Chronic effects:
Renal toxicity
No information on acute effects.Chronic effects:
Inflammation of nasal mucosa
Renal toxicity
Radium-226 Ingestion (drinking water)

IARC Group 1 CarcinogenNo information on acute effects.

Noncancer chronic effects:
Anemia, necrosis of the jaw,  brain abscess, bronchopneumonia and death  (from oral ingestion)

Acute leukopenia (from inhalation)

Radon-222 Inhalation

IARC Group 1 CarcinogenNo information on acute effects.

Non cancer chronic effects:
Chronic lung disease, pneumonia,
Pulmonary fibrosis

Weight loss, hematologic disorders

IARC : International Agency for Research on Cancer:  Group 1= known to cause cancer in humans and animals; Group 2A= probably carcinogenic to humans; Group 2B= possibly carcinogenic to humans; Group 3= not classifiable as to its carcinogenicity in humans

ppm =parts per million

The following list briefly summarizes common effects of exposure to a wide spectrum of additional fracking chemicals.

  • Neurological – behavioral and/or cognitive symptoms, may be associated with autistic disorders, behavioral and psychosocial disorders 18
  • Respiratory – both acute and chronic respiratory effects, exacerbation of asthma, chronic obstructive lung disease, chronic restrictive lung disease, chronic bronchitis, lung cancer
  • Cardiovascular – congenital heart disease, thickening of peripheral vessels
  • Gastrointestinal – nausea, vomiting and diarrhea
  • Renal – acute and or chronic renal insufficiency
  • Urological – Arsenic increases the risk of bladder cancer 19
  • Reproductive – infertility, stillbirth, congenital deformities, decreased sperm production and poor sperm mobility
  • Immunological – allergies, autoimmune diseases and immunosuppressant disorders
  • Mucocutaneous / Dermatologic – irritant to eyes, ears, oro-pharynx, nose and sinuses
  • Hematopoietic – blood dyscrasias
  • Oncological – some chemicals are direct mutagens, laying the groundwork for later onset of various cancers. Other carcinogens, while not directly mutagenic or genotoxic, support the carcinogenic process by down-regulating tumor suppressor genes or by up-regulating tumor promoter genes.
  • Endocrine – endocrine disruptors mimic the action of hormonal tissues or, alternatively, block endogenous hormonal activity of the thyroid, ovaries, testes

Veterinary medicine provides a sentinel for potential human health outcomes, and reveals reason to be concerned about the effect of fracking on food supply. Animals are exposed to the same environmental challenges that we are, but are more vulnerable because they have fewer protections and more exposure. Anecdotal reports have found that both companion animals and livestock that lived in pastures or barns and drank water from nearby run-off from natural gas drilling operations have experienced direct mortality, and among survivors,  failure to breed, stillborn and congenitally deformed offspring, and worsening reproductive health in successive breeding seasons. Additionally, some animals have developed unusual neurological conditions, anorexia, and liver or kidney disease 20. Some livestock that were exposed wound up in the food chain, either as feed for other animals or perhaps even on a supermarket shelf. Also, there are reports of deleterious effects on wild mule deer populations, with an increased risk of early mortality, reproductive failure, as well as weakness and death of newborns. 21



Our nation needs a domestic clean fuel to meet the energy demands of our growing population and reduce our dependence upon foreign energy supplies. If it can be safely extracted without harming the environment, people or animals, the natural gas in the Marcellus play can help create jobs and be part of the energy solution. Prior experience in other states indicates a high likelihood of increased air pollution and contamination of waters from hydrofracking techniques used today. Furthermore, losses in livestock and local agriculture have adversely affected the availability and affordability of local foods in these states, not to mention the farmers. Hydrofracking leads to loss of rural land and spaces for outdoor recreation. These factors are likely to contribute to an increase the incidence of acute and chronic diseases, disabilities and increased health care expenditures.

For these reasons, MSSNY is in support of a moratorium on hydrofracking in New York until these aforementioned concerns have been clarified in a Health Impact Assessment, and that any uncovered risks have been adequately addressed to protect the health and well-being of New Yorkers.



The authors greatly appreciate the suggestions of David O. Carpenter. MD, Director of the Institute for Health and the Environment, Rensselaer, New York, as well the encouragement and advice of Carol Kwiatkowski, PhD, of The  Endocrine Disruption Exchange, Colorado. Many thanks go to Christopher Allain for his technical support in the preparation of this article.  Enormous thanks also to MSSNY staff who assisted with this article, especially Pat Clancy, Senior Vice-President of Public Health and Education.


The authors have no relevant financial relationships or conflicts of interest. This article was produced with no outside source of funding.

Update on Hydraulic Fracturing – References

  1. 2011 MSSNY Position Statement; Number 90.992 : High Volume Hydraulic Fracturing in the Marcellus Shale Area: page 52,accessed at: http://www.mssny.org/mssnycfm/mssnyeditor/file/2011/About?Position_Statements/2011_Position_Statements.pdf
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