Imagine preventing the people we love and ourselves from getting breast cancer by ensuring our environment is clean and healthy. Expand that vision to all cancers.
This October, during Breast Cancer Awareness Month, I propose we look beyond the pink ribbons and feel good activities. Let us talk about the pink elephant in the room, the possible link between our environment and cancer.
Breast Cancer Risk
Throughout Breast Cancer Awareness Month, there is a deluge of articles and blog posts written to help you evaluate your breast cancer risk mostly by reviewing your genetics, family cancer history, and lifestyle choices (often referred to as environmental factors). Competing for space are advertisements for pink merchandise and reports on efforts to find a cure for cancer.
I am not against learning about breast cancer and ways to reduce risk, or pink ribbons (I am wearing one as I write this), or research to help people with cancer live happy and fulfilling lives. What bothers me is the emphasis on preventing cancer through personal choices.
“A person’s cancer risk can be reduced with healthy choices like avoiding tobacco, limiting alcohol use, protecting your skin from the sun and avoiding indoor tanning, eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, keeping a healthy weight, and being physically active.” —Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
This is good advice—for everyone.
Breast Cancer and the Environment
The thing is, while you are busy living your healthy lifestyle (which I am definitely for) you may be missing a crucial piece of the cancer causation puzzle—the environment. You, me, everyone is part of the environment and we depend on it for oxygen, water, food; a place to live, work, and play; for beauty and spirituality.
How does breathing polluted air, drinking contaminated water, eating food doused in pesticides; living, working, and playing in spaces made with and filled with toxic materials and being exposed to carcinogens just by walking around contribute to you or your loved ones getting cancer?
It is a complex issue requiring a lot more research. However, lack of research does not necessarily mean there is no problem.
Has anyone ever proven that spraying poison on food in the form of pesticides and herbicides is good for people’s health?
Has there been a scientific study showing that emissions from coal-burning power plants improve the condition of people’s lungs?
Is there peer-reviewed research demonstrating that the unpronounceable ingredients in cosmetics are safe and improve life expectancy?
It seems to me that a clean and healthy environment on planet Earth is crucial for each one of us to be healthy, happy, and cancer free.
Breast Cancer Awareness Month – Call to Action
Okay, so now perhaps you are willing to consider that our environment may be contributing to the possibility of you and / or your loved ones getting cancer. So what can you do about it?
First, eat your fruits and vegetables, be physically active, and get enough sleep. There is no downside to living a healthy lifestyle!
Read the ingredients on your favorite snack package or preferred shampoo brand bottle. Then go look up the ingredients on the Internet. Do you still want to eat that or wash your hair with it? Do this repeatedly. Involve your kids and everyone can learn something.
Make your Voice Heard
Write a letter or e-mail to your congressperson, the mayor of your town, or the President of the United States letting him or her know you are concerned about cancer and how our environment might be contributing to it. Government agencies track issues of concern to their constituencies and data can be a powerful tool.
Hit the Streets
Join a group of people in your community who are working on something important to you. Do you worry about pesticide residue on the lettuce you buy at the grocery market? Are you losing sleep over the expansion of a natural gas fracking operation near your home or your child’s school? Are you concerned about pollution in a favorite stream or lake? Locate a group via your friends, family, coworkers, web browser or social media.
For my action, I am doing some research.
In his, National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, 2016 Presidential Proclamation, President Obama announced the White House Cancer Moonshot Task Force, which is striving to make a decade’s worth of progress in preventing, diagnosing, and treating cancer in just 5 years. I want to find out if and how the environment is being included in this national cancer research project.
What are you doing? Share your Breast Cancer Awareness Month action with other readers.
In short, Section 322 exempts fracking fluids and underground storage of natural gas from complying with the underground injection well regulations established by the U.S. EPA to protect our underground drinking water sources, meaning our aquifers.
This post explores events and influences that led to the Energy Policy Act of 2005 and attempts to explain what Section 322 means in terms of the safety of our drinking water.
Fracking Fluids Endanger Drinking Water
There are over 1 million oil and gas wells spread across the United States. Thousands of more wells will join them as the oil and gas industry attempts to cash in on the current domestic oil and natural gas boom.
Fracking operators choose from hundreds of different chemicals to blend their proprietary (secret) fracking fluids, which may contain substances that are known carcinogens or that pose other significant dangers to human health. Just like any other structure, wells are subject to leaking or failure, fluid spills occur, and accidents happen. This can lead to contaminating the aquifers that millions of people rely on for their drinking water.
Oil and gas industry representatives claim there are no cases of water contamination caused by fracking, but this is a ridiculous statement. There are too many reports of polluted wells and contaminated public water systems near oil and gas fracking operations for it to be coincidental.
Safe Drinking Water Act of 1974
Let’s review the Safe Drinking Water Act and the section affected by the Energy Policy Act, the Underground Injection Control Program.
During the 1970’s, Americans fed up with pollution demanded the U.S. Congress take action to protect their health and wellbeing. Congress responded by passing several major pieces of environmental legislation including the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, and Safe Drinking Water Act.
These laws were necessary because businesses and industries of all types had demonstrated that they were either unwilling or incapable of operating in a manner that protected the public’s health and the environment. The federal government stepped in with laws and regulations.
The Clean Water Act of 1972 (CWA) gives the EPA authority to set effluent and wastewater standards and makes it unlawful to discharge any pollutant into U.S. waterways and water bodies unless a permit is obtained.
Building on the CWA, the Safe Drinking Water Act of 1974 (SDWA) authorizes the EPA to establish and enforce national drinking water standards and to establish and enforce regulations to protect underground drinking water sources.
Underground Injection Control Program
The intent of the Underground Injection Control Program is to prevent underground drinking water sources from being contaminated by fluids injected into underground wells.
The SDWA authorizes the EPA to establish regulations for underground injection wells and gives the states responsibility for issuing or denying injection well permits and enforcing regulations.
Injection wells are used to place fluids underground. These fluids include water, wastewater, non-hazardous liquids, hazardous wastes, brine (salt water), and water mixed with chemicals including those associated with mining, and oil and gas production. Well requirements vary depending on the fluid or fluids being injected.
The Underground Injection Control Program defines an injection well as:
A bored, drilled, or driven shaft, or a dug hole that is deeper than it is wide,
An improved sinkhole, or
A subsurface fluid distribution system.
Next, we will take a look at the task force that eventually led to the Energy Policy Act of 2005.
National Energy Policy Development Group
In January 2001, just days after being sworn in as the 43rd President of the United States, George W. Bush appointed his new Vice President Dick Cheney to lead the National Energy Policy Development Group. The president charged the task force with developing a national energy policy.
At the time, California was in the midst of an energy crisis with rolling blackouts affecting hundreds of thousands of people and thousands of businesses across the state. Governor Gray Davis had declared a state of emergency. President Bush referred to the crisis numerous times in his public remarks as he reinforced the need for a national energy policy.
The task force presented its 170-page National Energy Policy Report to the president in May 2001. President Bush forwarded the report to Congress on June 28, 2001 and requested Congress address the items requiring legislative action. Several years later, a national energy policy emerged in the form of the Energy Policy Act of 2005.
Energy Policy Act of 2005
The Energy Policy Act of 2005 is a far-reaching law intended “To ensure jobs for our future with secure, affordable, and reliable energy.” It addresses a wide range of topics including energy efficiency, renewable energy, coal, oil, natural gas, nuclear, vehicle fuels, hydrogen, tax incentives, federal land access, and research studies.
We will concern ourselves with Section 322 Hydraulic Fracturing that endangers our drinking water by amending Paragraph (1) of section 1421(d) of the Safe Drinking Water Act (42 U.S.C. 300h (d)) .
This is how it appears in the current United State Code (the red text shows the words that were added by the Energy Policy Act).
Title 42 – The Public Health and Welfare
Chapter 6A – Public Health Service
Subchapter XII – Safety of Public Water Systems
Part C – Protection of Underground Sources of Drinking Water
Section 300h – Regulations for State Programs
(d) “Underground injection” defined; underground injection endangerment of drinking water sources
For purposes of this part:
(1) Underground injection.— The term “underground injection”—
(A) means the subsurface emplacement of fluids by well injection; and
(i) the underground injection of natural gas for purposes of storage; and
(ii) the underground injection of fluids or propping agents (other than diesel fuels) pursuant to hydraulic fracturing operations related to oil, gas, or geothermal production activities.
The Halliburton Loophole
From the beginning, there were questions about the suitability of having Dick Cheney head up the National Energy Policy Development Group and possible conflicts of interest due to his relationship with the oil and gas industry.
From 1995 to 2000, just prior to becoming the 46th Vice President of the United States, Dick Cheney was the CEO and Chairman of the Board of Halliburton, one of the world’s largest service providers to the oil and gas industry and currently ranking 103 on the Fortune 500 list with revenue of over $29.4 billion.
Fast forward to 2005, Cheney’s involvement in creating the national energy policy resulted in Section 322 of the Energy Policy Act being dubbed the ‘Halliburton loophole.’
There is no plausible explanation for exempting fracking fluids from regulation, except that this is what the oil and gas industry wanted. In this instance, apparently the President, Vice President, and Congress forgot whom they are supposed to serve.
In 2008, filmmaker Josh Fox received a letter informing him that his home and 19 acres on the Delaware River in Pennsylvania sit atop the Marcellus Shale Formation (which holds the largest natural gas reserve in the U.S.). The letter stated the natural gas exploration company would pay him around $100,000 if he would allow them to set up shop on his land and drill beneath it using the process of hydraulic fracturing (fracking).
Fox grabbed his camera, hit the road, and began filming Gasland.
He traveled around the country talking with and filming people who were already living with natural gas fracking operations on their land, under it, across the street, upstream, or in the neighborhood.
Gasland viewers will see and hear real-life accounts of contaminated drinking water, toxic fumes, explosions, illnesses, and destroyed property values. The movie follows the attempts of these people to get help from the corporations doing the fracking and the government agencies responsible for protecting their health and the environment.
Five years later, Fox hit the road again to film Gasland Part II in which he revisited some of the people he met during the first movie, interviewed then EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, and was arrested while attempting to film a Congressional hearing.
The Bottom Line
Josh Fox is the founder and producing artistic director of the International WOW Company. He has written, directed, and produced pieces for the stage and screen. Fox garnered media attention and accolades with the release of Gasland in 2010. The film won several awards and received a 2011 Academy Award nomination for Best Documentary. The follow up movie, Gasland Part II was released in 2013.
The Gasland movies show real people in real settings. They are informative, occasionally shocking, and often heartrending.
The stories of the people shown in Gasland and Gasland Part II could be anyone’s stories. Imagine your life without safe water for drinking, bathing, washing dishes, doing laundry, or filling your pet’s water bowl. How would you feel if you were powerless to stop a corporation from building a natural gas drilling rig next to your child’s school? What would you do if your home was now worthless and you could not afford to abandon it and move away?
I pose these questions not to dissuade potential viewers from watching the Gasland movies but to encourage you to learn about how natural gas production affects people and the environment. Ignorance is not bliss; awareness of a problem is the first step towards solving it.
Gasland and Gasland Part II should be required viewing for all corporate executives and government officials.
I think I will ask President Obama if he has seen the movies yet.