When Jamie Frederick bought her home outside Youngstown, Ohio, a little more than three years ago, she was unaware that her neighbor had already leased his land to a natural gas company. Neither did she know that the gas company had already fracked the shale beneath her home.
I lay on the bathroom floor, night after night, thinking I would surely be dead soon. Throwing up until the blood vessels in my eyes and cheecks would burst. At that time, I did not know what fracking was, or that I was deliberately being poisoned. But I do now.
When she first started to get sick—blinding headaches, nausea, mystery illnesses that ultimately took her gall bladder—she had no idea the two were related. But they were.
While the human health impacts of fracking are still being documented, the natural gas industry shrugs off any such claims of a connection, contending there is no proof. Medical studies are underway to prove the linkage, but that will take years. In the meantime, it is not a stretch to imagine that pumping hundreds of thousands of gallons of chemicals into the earth and groundwater will inevitably, and adversely, impact both land and man.
Fredericks went public with her story last January on the steps of the capitol building in Youngstown; she is a reluctant symbol of the growing relationship between fracking and people getting sick.
In May, Academy Award winning actress Melissa Leo put life to Fredericks' words near the steps of a different capitol, in Albany, New York, where Governor Andrew Cuomo is right now considering lifting his state's moratorium against fracking.
Leo's audience in Albany included state capitol workers—lobbyists, legislators, and staffers—as well as New York-based musicians Natalie Merchant, the Felice Brothers, Joan Osborne, Citizen Cope, John Sebastian and more.
Before Governor Cuomo makes his decision, he should consider Jamie Frederick's experience:
"I had my gall bladder taken out but continued to have what seems to be a never-ending intestinal flu. It became so bad that I soon developed an infection in my intestine, as large as a grapefruit, that ate through to the outside of my skin. When I was finally admitted to the hospital, doctors said that I would have been dead in a few days if I had not come in when I did. They were baffled, and could only tell me this should not be happening to a healthy 30-year-old woman, and that this condition is typically only found in third world countries.
"It turns out that before we moved into our house the neighboring property owner, who lives out of town, had signed a gas lease. No one told us. Out of the 62 acres signed off by my neighbor, apparently the best place to drill was right by my home, as close as the law would allow.
"Tests of our water revealed high levels of contaminants that are a result of the hydraulic fracturing and drilling process, such as high levels of barium, strontium, toluene and several others that I will not try to pronounce. My medical mystery was now solved. This was why I had been so sick for so long. At the time when I was most sick, I was drinking over 2 gallons of this water unfiltered each day.
"As we investigated deeper, we discovered that several wells had been drilled nearby, tucked quietly away in the woods that surround our home. My husband never got sick because he hardly ever drank the water at home. I always bugged him to drink more water, and I’m glad now that like most husbands, he never listened to me. It’s hard to say which one of the 10 wells within a half-mile, 15 within a mile, actually caused the contamination. It only takes one bad well to poison a water table that can sometimes stretch out for over a mile. In some places that’s a lot of homes.
"When the convoys of trucks and drilling equipment began rolling down our once lonely, quiet road our lives changed forever.
"Living through the drilling and fracking phase was a truly terrifying experience. We were given no notice whatsoever as to what was about to happen to us, and had nowhere to evacuate to with our three dogs and cats. We felt like we were trapped in someone’s idea of a sick joke. 24-7, nonstop. It would have been more peaceful to live on an airport runway.
"We couldn’t sleep for days at a time, and when we did it was only short naps in between explosions. We tried using earplugs, covered by headphones, while listening to the radio, and could still plainly hear it. Worse yet, we could feel it, as a constant vibration through the house. That was just the drilling. The actual fracking lasted about three days.
"Dishes rattled in the cupboards, pictures fell off the wall, there were cracking sounds in the basement. I’ve never seen my dogs so terrified, and hope I never will again. They cowered together in a corner, shaking uncontrollably for days. They would not go outside and they would not eat.
"The gas storage tanks, and radioactive toxic waste tanks… I refuse to call it brine, I’m sorry, because that was just a lie, that is not what it is, it’s toxic waste … these tanks have been placed closer to my home than the well itself. They are right outside my bedroom window and just uphill from a fresh artesian spring on my property. The overflow hose that comes out of the radioactive toxic waste tank goes directly onto the ground and this is permitted because they get to lie and call it brine. I would not soak my pickles or my turkey in this. They are also permitted to bury toxic wastewater pit on my neighbor’s property, just uphill from our home.
"Everyone asks me why I am not more upset with my neighbor and why I don’t sue him. I feel that he was taken advantage of by the gas company. They told him it would be no bigger operation than drilling a water well, and that the only thing left behind would be the size of a garbage can and surrounded by trees that they would plant. All lies. They also buried the radioactive toxic waste pit in the exact location where he told them he planned to build a home to retire in. He says that if he knew then what he knows now, he never would have signed and that he is very sorry. They have already destroyed the land that has been in his family for generations, dating back to the early 1800’s, and they are just getting started
"Our little house, in the middle of the woods, will soon be in the middle of a toxic wasteland, as they prepare to cut down the remaining trees to put in the pipelines and compressor stations that will eventually connect the wells. Our property value has been reduced from $125,000 to nothing, overnight. Forty seven wells, including injection wells, already cover the 12 square miles that is Coitsville, even surrounding the wildlife preserve.
"We have already had a blowout of at least one well, a chemical spill, and a tear in a waste pit liner. And again, they are only getting started. I haven’t retested the water since the last well was drilled, but I have a feeling it didn’t make it cleaner. Even if I wanted to have it retested, we have nothing left, having spent every penny on water testing, water filtration equipment, medical bills, and renovating a home we thought we were going to raise a family in. We now check our faucets daily with a lighter, and we’re still hopeful because it hasn’t ignited, yet. I am feeling much better these days, and so are my dogs since we stopped drinking the water. My liver and kidney numbers have improved, though much damage has been done. I have developed kinetic tremors in my hands as a result of the neurological side effects of some of the chemicals.
"But the worst side effect caused by the damage is my inability to safely carry a child, without the risk of hemorrhage or even death. Even if I could somehow still give birth, knowing the high risk of birth defects caused by the chemicals I drank. I will never take that risk. At the time when I was most sick, drinking the most water, I lay on the bathroom floor, night after night, thinking I would surely be dead soon. Throwing up until the blood vessels in my eyes and cheeks were burst. At that time, I did not know what fracking was, or that I was being deliberately poisoned. But I do now."
How worried are you about the groundwater under your home becoming polluted because of fracking?
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A six-time grantee of the National Geographic Expeditions Council, Jon Bowermaster has spent the past two decades circling the world’s ocean, studying both its health and the lives of the people who depend on it. He is the author of 11 books (his most recent, OCEANS, Threats to Our Seas and What You Can Do to Turn the Tide, was published by Participant Media) and producer of a dozen documentary films. His blog—Notes From Sea Level—reports daily on issues impacting the ocean and us. Follow Jon on Facebook. @jonbowermaster | Email Jon | TakePart.com
- Nature & Environment