Fracking firm disputes known fracking risks

A major fracking firm has gone on the offensive, attacking claims by a UK campaign group that there are potentially serious occupational and environmental risks associated with the controversial process.

Cuadrilla hit out after a leaflet from the campaign group Friends of the Earth (FoE) highlighted warnings, many made by official US government agencies, about the dangers posed by the toxic chemicals and crystalline silica used in large volumes in fracking operations.

Francis Egan, Cuadrilla’s chief executive, said the FoE claims about chemical risks were “irresponsible and shameful”. The firm said it was referring the “wilfully misleading” leaflet to the Charity Commission, Advertising Standards Authority and the Fundraising Standards Board.

The company picked out FoE references to crystalline silica and polyacrylamide for particular attention. FoE had identified  official cancer and lung disease warnings linked to respirable crystalline silica exposure in fracking workers in the US. It noted polyacrylamide, also used in fracking operations, has been identified by authorities as a potential source of groundwater contamination with acrylamide, a probable carcinogen.

A Cuadrilla spokesperson said: “As Friends of the Earth is well aware, the UK Environment Agency does not permit the use of ‘a toxic cocktail of chemicals’ in fracking fluid for use in the UK and, in fact, only permits fracking fluid that it has assessed and tested as non-hazardous to groundwater.”

FoE noted there had been a spate of recent stories “that seem designed to undermine the credibility of those campaigning to stop fracking. It’s no surprise to see this happening, as the anti-fracking movement really has been getting in the way of government and industry plans.” FoE added the “risk to the health and safety of workers should be properly investigated, not made a mockery of.”

The stories critical of FoE’s approach, included articles in The Times and on the BBC website citing Cuadrilla, prompted a group of top academics to back publicly FoE’s stance on the dangers posed by fracking.

A letter signed by occupational and environmental health specialists from the UK, US, Italy and Australia, notes: “It would be folly not to learn from the US experience of fracking. The refrain in the UK that, if properly regulated, fracking can be performed with no significant risk to health assumes that the risks have been properly assessed and the regulatory system is robust. Neither is true.”

It warns: “Fracking without question involves exposure to substances linked to cancer, asthma and other health impacts. It is not scaremongering to say so.”



Deadly UK silica exposures are not being controlled

Companies are continuing to expose workers to excessive levels of silica dust, which can cause deadly cancers and lung diseases, the UK Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has admitted.

HSE, the official UK safety regulator, urged the stone industry to do more to protect workers’ health after an inspection initiative in the south of England found a failure to control the potentially lethal dust was commonplace. HSE inspectors visited 60 stone businesses, including work surface manufacturers, stonemasons and monumental masons, in the period from June to September 2015.

The initiative, supported by trade association, Stone Federation Great Britain, visited both federation members and non-members. HSE found serious breaches at over half (35) of the premises that were visited, with inadequate control of respirable crystalline silica (RCS) one of the “common areas of concern… found throughout the initiative”. It issued four prohibition notices, 54 improvement notices and provided verbal advice to others. HSE told Hazards magazine that most of its enforcement action – three of the four prohibition notices and 36 of the 54 improvement notices – related to a failure to control silica exposures.

HSE said “a number of businesses” were unaware that in 2006 the workplace exposure limit for respirable crystalline silica was revised from 0.3 mg/m3 to 0.1mg/m3, requiring more stringent controls. In a clarification to Hazards magazine, the watchdog said “at least 7” of the 60 businesses were unaware of the tighter standard, “however feedback was not sought from all inspectors on this point.”

The new information from HSE adds to concerns about the effectiveness of official efforts to address the workplace silica hazard.

Last year, HSE was accused of leaving workers at double jeopardy from the cancer-causing, lung scarring dust. A report in the workers’ safety magazine Hazards criticised HSE for resisting a union-backed call for it to halve the current 0.1mg/m3 exposure limit for the common workplace dust. And it said the government-imposed, hands-off, HSE enforcement policy combined with swingeing resource cuts mean even the current “deadly” standard is not being enforced effectively.

The report concluded that HSE’s strategy to address the long-established risks has not worked. A 2009 baseline study by HSE found that all the major industries with a potential for high silica exposures, including the stone industry, were failing to control the risks effectively.

HSE campaigns over many years have failed to increase awareness of silica risks or led to improvements in workplace conditions.


Fukushima worker to get radiation cancer payout

The authorities in Japan have acknowledged that a worker involved in clean-up work at the Fukushima nuclear plant may have developed cancer as a result.

Officials say the man will be entitled to compensation for work-related illness, in the first cancer case linked to the Fukushima plant meltdown. The man, aged 41, is suffering from leukaemia. The nuclear plant was badly damaged in the earthquake and subsequent tsunami that hit Japan on 11 March 2011. The man worked at the damaged plant from October 2012 to December 2013, and was exposed to a total of 19.8 millisieverts of radiation during that period.

The BBC reports this is nearly four times the annual dose allowed for nuclear workers in Japan but is less than half the amount US nuclear workers can be exposed to in a single year. The man will receive compensation to cover medical costs and lost income, government officials said. “While the causal link between his exposure to radiation and his illness is unclear, we certified him from the standpoint of worker compensation,” a health ministry official said.

Three other Fukushima workers are waiting to have their cancer cases assessed. Former plant manager Masao Yoshida died of oesophageal cancer in 2013 – but plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco) denied his death was related to the 2011 meltdown, saying the cancer would have taken several more years to develop.

Tepco said it could not comment on the decision to approve the worker’s compensation claim. “We would like to offer our condolences to the worker,” a Tepco spokesperson said. “We will continue to reduce the radiation dose of the working environment and manage thoroughly workers’ exposure to radiation.” More than 45,000 people have worked on the clean-up at the Fukushima plant.

TUC backs MPs’ call for asbestos removal

The TUC has demanded immediate action after MPs accused the UK government of complacency on the risks of asbestos in buildings and called for an asbestos eradication law. The asbestos crisis: why Britain needs a new law was published in October by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Occupational Safety and Health. Launching the report, group chair and Wansbeck MP Ian Lavery said the government is being “far too complacent about asbestos.”