Toxic chemicals and accidents due to fracking activity account for many preventable injuries and illnesses each year. But companies are not taking responsibility for unsafe workplaces, and public health problems reflect their negligence.
It is not surprising that the large corporations responsible for many occupational health risks downplay the toxic nature of the fracking business, and in turn, fail to properly study the effects of toxic exposure, and fail to warn and protect employees. With that said, any employee injured on a fracking worksite may have a claim against their employer.
A May 2014 report from the U.S. AFL-CIO warned about the occupational risks of America’s fracking-fueled oil and gas boom, noting deaths in the industry were up by 23 percent in 2012 alone. There is a concern nationwide, including Ohio, where over 300 fracking wells have been drilled in recent years.
The oil and gas industry has never claimed the safest work sites. The fatality among oil and gas workers hovers around eight times higher than the all-industry rate. Injuries and deaths are caused by road and rail accidents, machinery mishaps, valve failure and toxic chemical exposure.
An independent analysis of data submitted by fracking operators revealed that one-third of all fracking jobs reported use at least one cancer-causing chemical.
In recent years, the growth of fracking has brought many new workers into the industry, resulting in workers without relevant training and experience. No doubt, tough working conditions add to fracking dangers and increase the odds of serious fracking accidents.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) works to enforce all rules and regulations for the oil and gas sector, but is not keeping up with growth. Courts and legal representatives are available to assist victims of workplace injury.
Joe Lyon is a highly-rated Ohio Toxic Tort and Cincinnati Catastrophic Injury Attorney, representing plaintiffs nationwide in a wide variety of civil litigation claims.
Dangerous Fracking Chemicals
An estimated 600 chemicals are used in fracking operations, many of which can be harmful at low levels of exposure. These include chemicals typically seen in pesticides, paint thinners, inks and disinfectants.
Exposures at fracking sites can include silica, heavy metals, carcinogens and nerve poisons, known causes of lung diseases like silicosis and associated with lung, bladder and other cancers.
A report presented to the Endocrine Society conference in June 2014 warned that among the chemicals that the fracking industry has reported using most often, all 24 tested block activity of one or more important hormone receptors, and have been associated with infertility, cancer and birth defects.
Researchers from Princeton University, Columbia University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology recently presented damaging health and safety findings to the American Economic Association. The researchers found evidence that infants born within a 2.5 kilometer radius of fracking sites “increased the likelihood of low birth weight by more than half.”
Silica sand is the primary agent used to fracture rocks underground and keep those cracks open. If not properly controlled, “frac sand” can cause lung cancer, silicosis and other fatal diseases in exposed workers.
The U.S. government’s safety research agency, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) has issued an official Hazard Alert. NIOSH found face masks did not reduce exposures below the limit.
An ongoing attempt by the OSHA to cut the permissible limit for crystalline silica exposure has been opposed by the American Petroleum Institute (API) and the rest of the fracking industry. API has refused to release the findings of its own evaluation of silica exposures.
NIOSH reported that 92 of 116 air samples it had taken from fracking sites in five states exceeded the recommended safe levels for silica. Too much exposure over a career may result in silicosis, an incurable, irreversible lung disease that can lead to lung cancer and make people more susceptible to tuberculosis.
Fracking Benzene Exposure
Fracking workers are routinely exposed to high levels of benzene, a colorless gas that can cause cancer, according to a study by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.
The agency recommends that people limit their benzene exposure to an average of 0.1 of a part per million during their shift, though research published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Hygiene shows workers’ exposure commonly exceeds that amount.
Benzene can be acutely toxic to the nervous system, liver, and kidneys at high concentrations.
Most concerning is that little is known about the long-term effects of benzene exposure on oil and gas workers. The full health consequences may have yet to be discovered.
Fracking Accidents On the Rise
From 2009 to 2012 the fracking industry added 23 percent more workers but job gains have come with a price. In 2013, 138 workers were killed on the job, a two-fold increase since 2009. There have been over 1,000 deaths in the oil and gas industry since 2003.
Major fracking accidents have become more common. In February 2014, a worker died when a Chevron fracking well exploded in Pennsylvania. The fire burned for five days. Fracking explosions have been caused by faulty valves and poorly maintained valves.
About 562,000 people worked in the domestic oil and gas extraction sector in 2012, and nearly half of them worked for companies that perform fracking and flowback operations—the transferring, storing and measuring of fluids that return to the surface.
Flowback involves a number of toxic chemicals and since 2010 there have been at least four deaths linked to acute exposures. NIOSH Officials say these chemicals can affect the eyes, lungs and nervous system and at high levels also may lead to an abnormal heartbeat.
Common fracking accidents in the field include:
Fracking Toxic Exposure
Several toxic chemicals are used every day on fracking sites, though employees who work closely with the substances may not be entirely aware of the health risks the toxins present.
Employers have a duty to warn workers of the risks and provide them with proper protective equipment and safety protocols. Fracking companies have failed in the past to take responsibility for unsafe workplaces, and employee cancer rates reflect their negligence.
Benzene, for example, is a common dangerous toxin used in the fracking process, known to cause cancer. Many recent studies link Benzene exposure to forms of cancer like Acute Myeloid Leukemia. The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) now classifies Benzene as a top-priority human carcinogen.
Large quantities of silica sand are also used during hydraulic fracturing and are a serious health hazard to workers. Oil and gas companies continue to use toxins at worksites, despite studies that indicate the dangers.
Common Fracking Injuries
Fracking Accident Lawsuits
Several large companies are responsible for drilling wells and managing fracking operations in the United States. They are not always cognizant of the dangers their employees face on work sites, and do not properly protect workers to the best of their ability.
When employers put profit ahead of worker safety, they can be found negligent when fracking injuries occur, or when environmental damage negatively affects property values.
Hydraulic fracturing is a complex process that involves many different companies, responsible for the technology, transportation of materials, chemical manufacturing and transport, land maintenance, and distributors of the end product.
When they fail to protect workers, and when fracking causes irreparable environmental damage, they should compensate employees and property owners for the damage they have caused.
Workers at fracking sites nationwide who have developed health issues may have claims against the product manufacturers or company responsible for the worksite that created the dangerous condition leading to the injury.