Canadian doctors link fracked natural gas to cancer and birth defects

MDs also call attention to fracking-associated links to pollution and global warming

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      In a new report released January 29, a group of Canadian doctors has called for a national moratorium on all new fracking operations.

      The Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment (CAPE) also urged an eventual phasing out of all existing such developments.

      In the report, titled Fractures in the Bridge: Unconventional (Fracked) Natural Gas, Climate Change and Human Health, environmental and health hazards associated with fracking are examined.

      Fracking releases trapped natural gas deep beneath the Earth's surface by blasting water, toxic chemicals, and sand at high pressure through drilled horizontal wells to fracture rock that is enclosing gas reserves.

      Among the "frightening health impacts" associated with fracking that were mentioned in a January 29 news release issued the same time as the report are "adverse reproductive outcomes, low birth weight, birth defects, and leukemia in children exposed in utero". The release of toxic chemicals into water and air and a fracking-related increase in earthquakes also received mention.

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      “Many adverse health effects have been identified in studies directed at fracking operations, but the strongest evidence is for negative impacts on pregnancy and birth outcomes and the aggravation of asthma,” Notebaert added. “The evidence for low birth weight is quite strong, which is disturbing, as low birth weight is an indicator for a number of serious health impacts, including developmental deficits in children and increased rates of cardiovascular disease in later life. There is also reason to believe that fracking increases the risk of leukemia among children whose mothers are exposed during pregnancy.”

      One of the most dire prospects for the environment concerns the leakage of methane from fracking operations. As a climate-warming greenhouse gas, methane is 86 times more powerful than carbon dioxide, which is often portrayed as the chief villain in human-caused global warming and climate change.

      Methane comprises almost 100 percent of natural gas.

      During the past decade around the world, about two-thirds of the natural gas produced has come from so-called shale gas that has been fracked in Canada and the U.S.; more than 70 percent of the gas produced in Canada comes from fracking sites. Most of those developments are in northeast B.C.

      CAPE board member and Vancouver family physician Dr. Larry Barzelai addressed those climate concerns in the January 29 release: “Fracking for natural gas in B.C. is catastrophic news for climate change. Global methane levels have been steadily escalating over the last decade and new evidence points the finger at fracking.”

      CAPE executive director Robin Edger urged the federal government to abolish fracking in Canada: "Natural gas is a fossil fuel that is feeding the climate crisis, compromising our ability to meet our commitments under the 2015 Paris Agreement, and threatening our ability to avoid catastrophic levels of climate change,” he said. “Fracking threatens our health and is contributing to climate change. The only responsible step for government is to ban it outright.”

      The release noted that five Canadian provinces and six U.S. states have declared moratoriums on fracking natural gas, not to mention European countries such as Bulgaria, France, Germany, Ireland, the Netherlands, Northern Ireland, Scotland, England, and Wales. Uruguay has also adopted a moratorium.