New York to Review Health Impact of Fracking

In a surprise announcement, the Commissioner of the state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), stated that a review of the possible health impacts of hydrofracking will be conducted in-house by the state’s Department of Health under Commissioner Nirav Shah, with input from outside experts whom Shah will select. (See our previous coverage.) Joe Martens thus denied requests from many environmentalists, physicians, public health experts, and community groups to have the review conducted by an outside, independent, non-governmental entity. A spokesperson for the Governor’s office said on September 24  that Governor Cuomo fully supports Martens’ decision and there is no timetable on a newly added layer to the state’s review of hydraulic fracturing. Martens said, “I have recently met with several of the groups who have raised public health concerns and it is clear they are not satisfied with the Department’s effort to address potential public health impacts.” He added, “….

New Law Requires Public Be Told of Sewage Released

photo: March 2011 filter spill, Larchmont A new law signed by Governor Cuomo last week requires sewage plants to inform the general public when untreated sewage is released in water bodies, especially swimming beaches and fishing areas. Under the new law, which goes into effect May 1, 2013, within 4 hours of a sewage discharge, all publicly owned  sewage treatment plants and sewer systems will have to notify the public via local news outlets and the website of the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC). Currently, sewage plants notify only certain public officials.   (See our previous coverage.) An important feature of the new law is that sewage plants must notify the public even after routine sewage releases, such as those permitted by the state during rain storms. According to the environmental watchdog group Riverkeeper, their testing data shows “these types of releases appear to be far more common and important for public health.” The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says that sewage overflows and storm water discharges from municipal sewer systems  create  “a variety of harmful pollutants, including disease-causing organisms, metals and nutrients that threaten our communities’ water quality and can contribute to disease outbreaks, beach and shellfish bed closings, flooding, stream scouring, fishing advisories and basement backups of sewage.” An estimated 1.8 to 3.5 million Americans become ill annually from contact with sewage in recreational waters, according to the EPA.

NY Fracking Update: Where Does the Wastewater Go?

  A group known as Environmental Advocates of New York has released a report that claims New York’s Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC)  fails to track the  waste water from about 6,800 existing low-volume hydraulic fracturing, or  “fracking” wells currently operating and doesn’t know where the drilling waste is going. The report, Out of Sight, Out of Mind, says only the gas companies know how wastes from their existing gas drilling operations are actually disposed of, and they’re not talking. The issue of safe waste water disposal was noted as a key challenge facing regulators, the gas industry, and environmental groups in a New York Times article and in a story by the Associated Press. (See our previous coverage.) Larchmont-based real estate attorney  Elizabeth Radow, who is head of the local chapter of the League of Women Voters, testified at a  hydrofracking forum that she has received calls from New York property owners who have had problems with  contamination from existing vertical wells. She noted that the environmental, financial, and health risks from drilling are often born by the individual property owners, not the gas companies who lease surface lands for drilling.