Fracking Industry Uses Tobacco Playbook to Defend Birth Defects

Bloomberg News reviews studies on the link between birth defects and living near fracking sites. It's compelling. Multiple studies show increased rates of congenital heart defects, low birth weight, and stillbirths.

A spokesperson for the fracking industry propaganda outfit, Energy in Depth, responded.

“The body of scientific knowledge has to advance gradually and you have to look at all of these things and the full spectrum. You can’t just look at this one individual or this group of studies.”

How many studies do we need? How long will it take?

“We also believe that until scientific research can establish what actually causes the diseases with which smoking has been statistically associated, it would be unfair to advocate any law prohibiting the sale of cigarettes”

That's what the tobacco industry was still arguing in 1987, many years after the link between cigarettes and multiple deadly health problems was clear.
To use another example, the fossil fuel industry continues to cast doubt on the scientific evidence behind climate change almost three decades after James Hansen first testified on the problem to Congress. There will never be enough conclusive evidence for those who profit from human suffering.

This is the fundamental flaw with how we regulate public health and safety in the United States. Some nations use the precautionary principle that puts burden on polluters to show they can operate without harming the public. In the United States we use that approach for prescription medication but not with polluting industries.

Several studies focus on the impacts of air emissions from fracking sites. Clearly, they aren't well regulated at the federal level. In Illinois, the fracking law doesn't address air emissions from well sites. Governor Pat Quinn and the legislature have decided that Illinoisans should be forced to participate in a potentially deadly science experiment while we wait for conclusive proof that people living nearby are harmed.

If you want to understand how environmental justice principles apply to low-income, rural extraction regions, this is a good example. The Illinois fracking law was negotiated in closed door sessions between industry lobbyists and representatives of a few environmental groups headquartered in Chicago, hundreds of miles away from any expected well sites. They got a seat at the table by showing they're willing to compromise over the objection of environmentalists in impacted areas.

The big green group staffers who negotiated the fatally flawed Illinois fracking law won't have to live anywhere near air emissions from wells. But some of us will. That's why the movement to stop fracking in Illinois continues to push on.

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