Tag Archives: Food and Water Watch

‘This Is a Scandal’: Documents Reveal Obama’s EPA Approved Toxic Chemicals for Fracking in 2011

“We still don’t know the full extent of toxic chemicals that companies are using in their fracking operations. Why is the EPA allowing them to poison our communities without consequence?”

By Kenny Stancil, staff writer for Common Dreams. Published 7-12-2021

A fracking rig behind a housing development Photo: WildEarth Guardians/flickr/CC

Between 2012 and 2020, fossil fuel corporations injected potentially carcinogenic per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), or chemicals that can degrade into PFAS, into the ground while fracking for oil and gas, after former President Barack Obama’s Environmental Protection Agency approved their use despite agency scientists’ concerns about toxicity.

The EPA’s approval in 2011 of three new compounds for use in oil and gas drilling or fracking that can eventually break down into PFAS, also called “forever chemicals,” was not publicized until Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR) obtained internal records from the agency through a Freedom of Information Act request, the New York Times reported Monday after reviewing the files.

According to PSR’s new reportFracking with “Forever Chemicals, oil and gas companies including ExxonMobil, Chevron, and others engaged in hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, have since 2012 pumped toxic chemicals that can form PFAS into more than 1,200 wells in Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Texas, and Wyoming.

While the Times noted that the newly released documents constitute some of the earliest evidence of the possible presence of PFAS in fracking fluids, PSR’s report warns that “the lack of full disclosure of chemicals used in oil and gas operations raises the potential that PFAS could have been used even more extensively than records indicate, both geographically and in other stages of the oil and gas extraction process, such as drilling, that precede the underground injections known as fracking.”

“It’s very disturbing to see the extent to which critical information about these chemicals is shielded from public view,” Barbara Gottlieb, PSR’s Environment & Health Program director, said Monday in a press release. “The lack of transparency about fracking chemicals puts human health at risk.”

As the Times reported:

In a consent order issued for the three chemicals on Oct. 26, 2011, EPA scientists pointed to preliminary evidence that, under some conditions, the chemicals could “degrade in the environment” into substances akin to PFOA, a kind of PFAS chemical, and could “persist in the environment” and “be toxic to people, wild mammals, and birds.” The EPA scientists recommended additional testing. Those tests were not mandatory and there is no indication that they were carried out.

“The EPA identified serious health risks associated with chemicals proposed for use in oil and gas extraction, and yet allowed those chemicals to be used commercially with very lax regulation,” Dusty Horwitt, a researcher at PSR, told the newspaper.

In a statement released Monday, Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch, called the PSR report “alarming,” and said it “confirms what hundreds of scientific studies and thousands of pages of data have already shown over the last decade: fracking is inherently hazardous to the health and safety of people and communities in proximity to it, and it should be banned entirely.”

As PSR notes, PFAS—highly potent toxins that accumulate in the body and persist in the environment—pose a threat to human and environmental well-being. Negative health effects linked to PFAS include low infant birth weights, disruptions of the immune and reproductive systems, and cancer.

“The potential that these chemicals are being used in oil and gas operations should prompt regulators to take swift action to investigate the extent of this use, pathways of exposure, and whether people are being harmed,” said Linda Birnbaum, board-certified Ph.D. toxicologist and former director of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.

Hauter added that “this says nothing of the dreadful impact fossil fuel extraction and burning is having on our runaway climate crisis. Fracking threatens every person on the planet, directly or indirectly.”

According to the Times:

In a 2016 report, the EPA identified more than 1,600 chemicals used in drilling and fracking, or found in fracking wastewater, including close to 200 that were deemed carcinogens or toxic to human health. The same EPA report warned that fracking fluid could escape from drill sites into the groundwater and that leaks could spring from underground wells that store millions of gallons of wastewater.

Communities near drilling sites have long complained of contaminated water and health problems that they say are related. The lack of disclosure on what sort of chemicals are present has hindered diagnoses or treatment. Various peer-reviewed studies have found evidence of illnesses and other health effects among people living near oil and gas sites, a disproportionate burden of which fall on people of color and other underserved or marginalized communities.

“The Obama-Biden administration approved the use of toxic PFAS chemicals for fracking a decade ago,” said Hauter, “and all these years later, President Joe Biden’s practices haven’t seemed to change a bit.”

“The Biden administration has claimed to be concerned about PFAS contamination throughout the country,” Hauter said. “Biden himself pledged during the campaign to halt new fracking on federal lands. Meanwhile, this administration is approving new fracking permits at a pace similar to Trump, with no letup in sight.”

Earlier this month, whistleblowers at the EPA accused the Biden administration of continuing the “war on science,” with managers at the agency allegedly modifying reports about the risks posed by chemicals and retaliating against employees who report the misconduct.

As Common Dreams reported, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility filed a formal complaint on behalf of four scientists with the EPA’s Office of the Inspector General, demanding an investigation into reports that high-level employees routinely delete crucial information from chemical risk assessments or change the documents’ conclusions to give the impression that the chemicals in question are safer.

Calling Monday’s revelations about the Obama administration’s decision to greenlight the use of PFAS in fracking “a scandal that should lead every nightly news program,” Jamie Henn, co-founder of 350.org and director of Fossil Free Media, noted that “we still don’t know the full extent of toxic chemicals that companies are using in their fracking operations.”

“Why is the EPA allowing them to poison our communities without conscience?” he asked.

Hauter called on Biden “to immediately make good on his promise to halt new fracking on federal lands,” adding that “his administration must take urgent action to contain the use of PFAS chemicals and their deadly spread into our water and our communities.”

This work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0).
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Federal Court Ends Trump Effort to Open 128 Million Acres of Atlantic, Arctic Oceans to Drilling

“As the Biden administration considers its next steps, it should build on these foundations, end fossil fuel leasing on public lands and waters, and embrace a clean energy future.”

By Jake Johnson, staff writer for Common Dreams. Published 4-14-2021

A Shell drilling vessel drifted aground off Sitkalidak Island in the Gulf of Alaska. (Photo: Petty Officer 1st Class Sara Francis/U.S. Coast Guard)

A federal appeals court on Tuesday dealt the final blow to former President Donald Trump’s attempt to open nearly 130 million acres of territory in the Arctic and Atlantic Oceans to oil and gas drilling.

In April of 2017, Trump signed an executive order aiming to undo an Obama-era ban on fossil fuel exploration in that territory, but a federal judge in Alaska ruled the move unlawful in 2019. Continue reading

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Amid Broader Concerns Over Biden USDA Nominee, Watchdog Flags ‘Disturbing Suppression’ of Science by Vilsack

“Unless he pledges to implement significant safeguards for scientists, Tom Vilsack should not be confirmed. The days in which federal agencies function as scientific gulags should be behind us.”

By Jake Johnson, staff writer for Common Dreams. Published 1-29-2021

Tom Vilsack during the 2008 transition. Photo: Obama Biden Transition Project/CC

On top of concerns about his close industry ties, corporate-friendly policy record, and alarming civil rights history, President Joe Biden’s Agriculture Secretary nominee Tom Vilsack is also facing scrutiny over what one watchdog organization on Friday characterized as “disturbing” evidence that he improperly meddled in and suppressed scientific research during his previous tenure as head of USDA.

Throughout his nearly eight years as former President Barack Obama’s USDA chief, Vilsack “routinely interfered with scientific work that big agriculture found bothersome,” the advocacy group Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) alleged in a statement Friday, pointing to the direct testimony and survey responses of department scientists. Continue reading

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‘Shameful Does Not Even Begin to Describe’ Trump EPA Decision on Chemical Known to Damage Children’s Brains

“Yet another abdication of duty by those that are entrusted with protecting Americans from needless and preventable harm.”

By Julia Conley, staff writer for Common Dreams. Published 5-15-2020

The EPA signaled Thursday it will not regulate perchlorate, a chemical used in rocket fuel, in drinking water. (Photo: wonderisland/Shutterstock)

Environmental campaigners vowed to fight President Donald Trump’s EPA Thursday after the agency said it would propose that the rocket-fuel chemical perchlorate does not need to be regulated, despite its links to cognitive damage in fetal and child development.

According to the New York Times, the EPA plans to tell the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) that it is “not in the public interest” to regulate the chemical at all, a year after the agency recommended the allowable amount in drinking water be limited to 56 parts per billion (ppb). Continue reading

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‘About Damn Time’: Detroit Pauses Water Shutoffs Amid Coronavirus Outbreak

“It shouldn’t take a crisis like the spread of coronavirus to restore people’s right to drinking water.”

By Andrea Germanos, staff writer for Common Dreams. Published 3-9-2020

A demonstrator holds a sign during a Detroit water shutoffs rally in 2014. (Photo: uusc4all/flickr/cc)

Progressives heaped praise on grassroots activists in Detroit on Monday after the Michigan city announced, amid the spread of the coronavirus, it was temporarily restoring water services to thousands of residents who’ve had their water shut off.

“About damn time,” said Abdul El-Sayed, a former head of the city’s health department and 2018 gubernatorial candidate. “It’s been six years since the U.N. declared Detroit water shutoffs an insult to human rights.” Continue reading

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Climate Expert Says UN Emissions Report Makes Clear Only Solution Is to ‘Cut Off Supply of Fossil Fuels at Their Source’

“Climate policy proposals that do not squarely confront the issue of supply are not making a serious attempt to avert catastrophe.”

By Jessica Corbett, staff writer for Common Dreams. Published 11-26-2019

“The urgent, necessary solution is to stop the supply of fossil fuels by banning fracking and all other forms of fossil fuel drilling,” says climate campaigner Mitch Jones. (Photo: CGP Grey/Flickr/cc)

An annual United Nations report published Tuesday on current and estimated future greenhouse gas emissions shows the “urgent need for supply-side action” to combat the climate emergency, according to the advocacy group Food & Water Action.

Mitch Jones, director of Food & Water Action’s Climate & Energy Program, released a statement responding to the new Emissions Gap report from the U.N. Environment Program (UNEP), which warned that global temperatures are on track to rise as much as 3.9°C by the end of the century. Continue reading

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By Allowing 6 Million Lead Service Lines to Stay In Ground, EPA’s Lead Rule Update Will Do Little to Protect Drinking Water, Critics Say

The EPA must remove service lines “before another generation of children grows up drinking lead from their kitchen tap water,” said the NRDC

By Julia Conley, staff writer for Common Dreams. Published 10-10-2019

Water rights and public health groups said Thursday that the EPA’s overhaul of the nation’s lead rules would not do enough to protect people from lead toxicity. (Photo: wonderisland/Shutterstock)

Public health groups that have waited decades for the federal government to overhaul its lead-in-water rules were outraged Thursday over EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler’s “wrongheaded” plan to update the regulations .

The overhaul, which Wheeler detailed at a press conference in Green Bay, Wisconsin, does not include the removal of at least six million lead service lines that have been underground for decades. Continue reading

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Trump Rollback of Key EPA Water Protection Rule Denounced as ‘Callous’ and ‘Immoral’ Giveaway to Big Polluters

“This is shameful and dangerous.”

By Jessica Corbett, staff writer for Common Dreams. Published 9-12-2019

As the Trump administration repealed the 2015 Clean Water Rule Thursday, one critic warned that “the EPA’s callous decision endangers communities and threatens our environment.” (Photo: Varanos/Flickr/cc)

Environmental and public health advocates blasted the Trump administration Thursday for finalizing its rollback of an Obama-era regulation designed to curb the pollution of waterways nationwide.

“Fifty years after the Cuyahoga River fire that inspired the Clean Water Act, President Trump’s administration wants to turn back the clock to the days of poisoned flammable water,” declared Abigail Dillen, president of the non-profit legal group Earthjustice. “This is shameful and dangerous.” Continue reading

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US House Applauded for Approval of ‘Sweeping’ Provisions That Target Toxic ‘Forever Chemicals’

As part of the annual defense spending bill, lawmakers passed several amendments on PFAS, including one that would designate them “hazardous substances” under the Superfund law

By Jessica Corbett, staff writer for Common Dreams. Published 7-12-2019

The U.S. House just passed several measures targeting so-called “forever chemicals” that experts warn have likely contaminated the drinking water of millions of Americans. (Photo: Bart/Flickr/cc)

Public health and environmental advocates celebrated a victory Friday as the U.S. House approved an amendment in the annual defense spending bill that would designate a class of “forever chemicals” as “hazardous substances” under the federal Superfund law.

The amendment was one of several provisions targeting toxic per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances—collectively called PFAS—that the Democratic-controlled House passed this week as part of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2020. Continue reading

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Ahead of Trump ‘Utter Fantasy’ Speech on Environmental Record, DC Flooding Sparks Warnings on Danger of Climate Inaction

“We don’t have time for more lies. We must address the climate crisis now,” says Sen. Bernie Sanders

By Andrea Germanos, staff writer for Common Dreams. Published 7-8-2019

A flash flood emergency in Washington left roads submerged and cars stranded as heavy rains poured over the region. Photo: CNN screenshot

Flooding in Washington, D.C. on Monday prompted calls for climate action as well as renewed scorn for the Trump administration’s abysmal environmental record.

The heavy rains came the morning President Donald Trump gave an afternoon speech in which he boasted of supposed environmental accomplishments. “Is this a joke?” said Ken Kimmell, president of the Union of Concerned Scientists. “It’s like an arsonist talking about how valuable his work is to the fire department.” Continue reading

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