We don’t need a Chernobyl to happen in Binghamton or Albany. We’ve got Marcellus shale gas to deliver radioactive exposure.
Currently, per the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) website, it is our Department of Health (DOH) which regulates radon, a radionuclide. According to the EPA, radon is the leading cause of cancer among non-smokers, accounting for 21,000 cancer deaths annually. Radon’s decay products include (radioactive) polonium and lead and, after 22 years, plain old lead. Polonium and radioactive lead emit decay particles which cause cancer. And remember, we wisely removed lead from our gasoline and paint.
Gov. Cuomo has committed New York to the Paris Accord, set bold goals for state use of renewables, and similarly established ambitious greenhouse gas reduction targets. He has also come out with a methane plan (which asks, disingenuously, where’s the methane coming from?).
Still our demand for fracked gas increases every year. And Marcellus gas contains radon. Lots of it. One study puts average radon levels at 40 picocuries per liter, but some individual well-head measurements have been in the thousands of picocuries per liter. The EPA recommends mitigation for any potential exposure over 2 picocuries per liter, but New Yorkers may have exposure 60 times this level. Commercial or residential heating, electricity generation, and home cooking with fracked gas, as well as the maintenance of gas infrastructure, all expose New Yorkers to radiation. With respect to health safeguards from radon in Marcellus gas, both the DEC and DOH have dropped the ball.
The DEC regularly approves fracked gas infrastructure with no concern to citizen exposure to radon because the DEC does not apply the federal definition of Technologically Enhanced Normally Occurring Radioactive Material (TENORM) to all the stuff coming out of a Pennsylvania fracked well head. Our DOH is silent regarding health risks although the American Medical Association warns that respiratory illnesses, fetal anomalies, endocrine disruption, and cancers all follow along pipeline rights-of-way. Shouldn’t some agency provide regulatory oversight of radioactive exposure to New Yorkers during residential or commercial gas use, infrastructure maintenance, fugitive leakage, and discharge from compressor blowdowns or combustion?
NY’s newly adopted “Clean Energy Standard” which incentivizes the use of fracked gas over fuel oil is yet another shell game: swapping CO2 pollution from oil for climate-cooking methane and radioactive exposure. As usual, in the alphabet soup of our state’s regulatory bodies, citizen health and environmental safeguards are forfeit to governmental incompetence and industry greed.
Katie Higgins is an Otego resident.