Celebrate and Contemplate

Next week (July 22) Innisfil Beach Park will be the site for Celebrate Lake Simcoe. It will be in recognition of its importance to our lives and an opportunity to learn about efforts to restore and maintain a clean lake and watershed for this region. Indigenous people will participate this year with a traditional pow wow and displays of their own.

Recent events make it all the more important to celebrate clean water and motivate us to ensure clean water for everyone. The mercury poisoning scandal at Grassy Narrows caused by industrial contamination of the Wabigoon River (up to 50 years ago and continuing today) may be one of the most neglected environmental disasters in history. At the end of June the Ontario government committed $85 million toward clean-up of this “gross neglect”. But a resolution will require more years of effort while almost all members of the Grassy Narrows First Nation exhibit symptoms of some neurological damage.

I’m reminding my readers of this because of an alarming report published in the American Chemical Society Journal and recently described in Science Daily and Clean Technica. One headline reads, “Waste Water from Fracking Pollutes Pennsylvania Watershed”. 

‘Fracking’, or hydraulic fracturing is a process where water and chemicals are injected, under pressure, into wells deep underground to force natural gas and oil to the surface. The chemicals used are not known because “what is in the wastewater is a closely guarded industry secret, made possible by the so-called Halliburton Rule” with the help of former U.S. vice-president and oil company executive Dick Cheney.

“Fracking fluid is a toxic brew that consists of multiple chemicals. Industry can pick from a menu of up to 600 different kinds. Typically, 5 to 10 chemicals are used in a single frack job, but a well can be fracked multiple times …” (James Fox, producer of the film, Gasland)

Companies may say that the fluid is recovered and recycled but scientists have been able to recover and analyze residues independently. “Studies … have identified formaldehyde, acetic acids, and boric acids, among hundreds of others.” (James Fox)

In the current study, “Researchers at Penn State, Colorado State, and Dartmouth College wanted to quantify what impact that waste water has on the local watershed and so the team took core samples downstream from two waste water treatment plants in western Pennsylvania. The team, led by professor Bill Burgos, found elevated concentrations of radium, alkaline earth metals, salts and organic chemicals in the sediment samples. The fact that they were found together in the same strata of the samples suggests they all came from the same source — waste water from fracking operations within the Marcellus Shale formation, which lies partly within western Pennsylvania.”

Some of the pollutants are associated with changes to the human endocrine system. Others are carcinogens. If you’re thinking this is just a Pennsylvania problem, the American website, FrackTracker, indicates that there are 1.7 million wells in the United States (2015). Texas, Kansas, and Oklahoma have more than 200,000 each. Pennsylvania and West Virginia have more than 100,000 each. (https://www.fractracker.org/2015/08/1-7-million-wells/)

Perhaps our celebration of Lake Simcoe, inspired by the prescient Ladies of the Lake (www.ourlakesimcoe.com), can continue to inspire others who would like to defend the right to clean water and a healthy environment.