Potential health risks cited in New Brunswick Chief Medical Officer of Health report on shale gas industry

Potential health risks cited in report on shale gas industry New Brunswick’s chief medical health officer recommends ongoing monitoring by CBC News, October 15, 2012
New Brunswick’s chief medical officer of health says the Alward government needs to take “targeted and strategic actions” to prevent and mitigate any negative health impacts associated with the development of the shale gas industry in the province.

“There are social and community health risks from this industry,” Dr. Eilish Cleary states in her 82-page report, released on Monday.

Cleary recommends requiring a health impact assessment and monitoring the health of the population on an ongoing basis to detect adverse impacts. She says “few studies” have looked at the overall health impact of shale gas development, but she believes the potential risks of hydro-fracking are greater than just chemicals. Air quality, noise, and vibration are among her concerns.

Cleary spent part of the summer looking at the potential health impacts of the industry and what the provincial government should do to minimize them. The Alward government initially would not commit to releasing the contents of Cleary’s report, but it was released in full. Cleary will not be answering any questions until Tuesday, when she is expected to hold a news conference.

“Proper controls and mechanisms to protect and monitor health must be put in place to reduce the risk of spoiling the potential benefits from economic gains through adverse health outcomes,” she states in the report.

Among her numerous recommendations:
•    Require disclosure of all chemicals used.
•    Monitor air, water and drinking water quality, including baseline measurements pre-development.
•    Prevent fracking in sensitive areas, including wet fields.
•    Require setbacks, noise/vibration standards, emergency response training.
•    Monitor the health of people living, working or going to school near fracking sites.
•    Establish an implementation group and oversight mechanism.
•    Ensure optimal emergency response capacity to deal with potential physical injuries at work sites and in the vicinity.

“Current infrastructure, capacity, processes and legislation are not adequate to meet these needs,”
Cleary stresses. The cost of funding her recommendations has not yet been determined, but they “will not be insubstantial,” Cleary writes.

But she has suggested if there are economic benefits from the shale gas industry, that could help cover some of the costs involved with measuring the health impacts. Cleary says her recommendations may seem onerous, but they should be seen as routine public health practice.

The provincial government also released a report Monday by Louis LaPierre, a professor emeritus in biology at the University of Moncton. LaPierre, who was hired to solicit the opinions of citizens over proposed regulatory changes to the oil and gas industry, said the provincial government must address the “very serious concerns” people have, but ruled out a provincial moratorium on the shale gas industry.

In May, the provincial government introduced 116 proposed changes to the regulatory framework that oversees the oil and gas industry.

From the Executive Summary:

The gas and oil industry is not new to New Brunswick. However, it is only in the last 10 years or so that the combination of technologies has been developed that makes it feasible to extract gas from the layers of shale deep in the earth in an economically viable way. The methodologies used are complex and still evolving. With shale gas production, we not only have to consider what the health impacts are from the known conventional part of the industry but also factor in those considerations that relate to the new. … When people don’t understand an issue, or feel their values are being compromised, this has an adverse bearing on their health and wellbeing.  [Emphasis added]

Dr. Eilish Cleary
Chief Medical Officer of Health
New Brunswick Department of Health

[Refer also to: Natural Gas Operations from a Public Health Perspective

Impacts of Gas Drilling on Human and Animal Health ]

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