These are some of the overall public health dangers inherent across the spectrum in all three major fossil fuel extraction industries: oil, coal, and natural gas.
1. Benzene Benzene is one of the largest-volume petrochemical solvents used in the fossil fuel industry. It is a major component in all major fossil fuel production: oil, coal, and gas. Benzene is a well-established carcinogen with specific links to leukemia as well as breast and urinary tract cancers. Exposure to benzene reduces red and white blood cell production in bone marrow, decreases auto-immune cell function (T-cell and B-cells), and has been linked to sperm-head abnormalities and generalized chromosome aberrations.
2. Sulfur Dioxide (SO2) and 3. Nitrogen Oxides (NOx). Sulfur dioxide (SO2) and nitrogen oxides (NOx) are two primary examples of particle-forming air pollutants (particulate matter) from coal power plants. Particulate matter is known to contribute to serious health problems, including lung cancer and other cardiopulmonary mortality. SO2 and NOx are both highly toxic to human health, and contribute directly to thousands of hospitalizations, heart attacks, and deaths annually.
4. Petroleum Coke (Pet Coke). Pet coke is a rapidly expanding byproduct of the massive bitumen processing (tar sands oil) and refining currently underway in Alberta, Canada. Pet coke’s heavy dust resembles coal. It contains dozens of dangerous chemicals and heavy metals, including chromium, vanadium, sulfur, and selenium. Pet coke is an egregious contributor to global climate change. When burned, it emits even 5 to 10 percent more CO2 than coal. These climate implications are hidden from the public.
5. Formaldehyde. Formaldehyde is a carcinogen with known links to leukemia and rare nasopharyngeall cancers, according to the International Agency for Research on Cancer. Formaldehyde is highly toxic regardless of method of intake. It is a potent allergen and genotoxin. Studies have linked spontaneous abortions, congenital malformations, low birth weights, infertility, and endometriosis to formaldehyde exposure. Epidemiological studies link exposure to formaldehyde to DNA alteration. It also contributes to ground-level ozone. Formaldehyde is commonly used in “fracking”—although the industry does not report the details of its use.
6. Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH). Many PAHs are known human carcinogens and genetic mutagens. In addition, there are particular prenatal health risks: Prenatal exposure to PAHs is linked to childhood asthma, low birth weight, adverse birth outcomes, including heart malformations, and DNA damage. Additionally, recent studies link exposure to childhood behavior disorders.
7. Mercury. Mercury is a dangerous neurotoxin. It damages the brain and the nervous system either through inhalation, ingestion, or contact with the skin. It is particularly dangerous to pregnant women and children. It is known to disrupt the development of the in-vitro brain. In low doses, mercury may affect a child’s development, delaying walking and talking, shortening attention span, and causing learning disabilities. High dose prenatal and infant exposures to mercury can cause mental retardation, cerebral palsy, deafness, and blindness. In adults, mercury poisoning can adversely affect fertility and blood pressure regulation, and can cause memory loss, tremors, vision loss, and numbness of the fingers and toes. Coal-fired power plants are the largest single source of airborne mercury emissions in the United States. The mercury emitted from such plants can travel thousands of miles.
8. Silica (Silicon Dust/Fracking Sand). Crystalline silica (“frac sand”) is a known human carcinogen; breathing silica dust can lead to silicosis, a form of lung disease with no cure. Silica is commonly used, in huge amounts, during fracking operations. Each stage of the process requires hundreds of thousands of pounds of silica quartz-containing sand. Millions of pounds may be used for a single well. The presence of silica in fracking operations, simply put, is a major safety risk with a high likelihood of dangerous exposure.
9. Radon. Radon is a colorless, odorless, tasteless radioactive gas that causes lung cancer. It is the second largest cause of lung cancer in the US after cigarette smoking. About 20,000 people per year die from lung cancer attributed to radon exposure, according to the National Cancer Institute. Further, there is no known threshold below which radon exposures carries no risk. Radon exposure can come from a variety of natural sources. However, the newly-developed fossil fuel extraction methods collectively known as “fracking” (natural gas) represent a significant new and increased source of radon exposure to millions of citizens. Radon is released into local groundwater and air during fracking operations. It also travels through pipelines to the point of use—be it a power plant or a home kitchen.
10. Hydrofluoric Acid (HF) / Hydrogen Fluoride. Hydrofluoric acid (HF) is “one of the most dangerous acids known.” HF can immediately damage lungs, leading to chronic lung disease; contact on skin penetrates to deep tissue, including bone, where it alters cellular structure. HF can be fatal if inhaled, swallowed, or absorbed through skin. The senior laboratory safety coordinator at the University of Tennessee said: “Hydrofluoric acid is an acid like no other. It is so potent that contact with it may not even be noticed until long after serious damage has been done.” Hydrofluoric acid is a common ingredient used in oil and gas extraction.
There are many more undisclosed toxins used in the fossil fuel industry.
These are the most common, but to most of us this is NOT COMMON KNOWLEDGE. How long are we prepared to tolerate it?