It’s been a difficult year to be an American woman. Everyone who has never met you seems to have an opinion on how you should live your life. Never does this scrutiny exist more than when a woman is pregnant. From what I’ve noticed, pregnancy ups the invasive questioning ten fold.
I’ve never been pregnant, but observing many friends go through 40+ weeks of pre-natal vitamins, ultrasounds, unwanted hands on your stomach, morning sickness and preeclampsia as well as days-long labor, I truly respect the work that my friends openly, freely, and gladly undertook to create and birth another member of the human family.
There’s a lot of hand-wringing and anxiety about pregnancy, some it deservedly so; everyone wants a healthy woman and healthy baby at the end of the nine-month journey and we know that loads can go wrong. To that end, women are advised to make drastic changes to their diet, including giving up certain foods, tobacco, caffeine and alcohol.
It seems odd though that of all the individual choices a woman can make to ensure a healthy pregnancy, she may unwittingly be putting herself and her fetus at risk due to her proximity to hydraulic fracturing wells and its pollution spewing into the environment. The air she breathes, the water she drinks, the soil where she grows her food is contaminated. The health side-effects suffered by people living near a site are documented. It seems, despite a woman’s individual sacrifices for a healthy pregnancy, the degradation of the natural environment is working against her.
Hydraulic fracturing, or ‘fracking’, is a process used in natural gas well and involves high pressure injection using an average of 5 million gallons of water, sand, and thousands of gallons of toxic chemicals to release the gas underground. A well may be fracked multiple times. The injection of fracking fluid breaks open the rocks and releases the gas, which rises to the surface and is captured and stored or transported via pipeline or truck.
The worry is that the chemicals used in fracking may pose a threat either underground and/or when waste fluids are handled and sometimes spilled on the surface. Chemicals used by gas corporations for fracking include benzene, arsenic, mercury, toluene, hydrogen sulfide and dozens more. There is no way to know for sure because the chemical cocktails used by each gas corporation are considered proprietary information and not in the public domain. The chemical melange is a trade secret! And what we do know does not inspire confidence. Long tern exposure to chemicals like benzene are known to cause reproductive issues and birth defects; toluene can cause miscarriage.
Additionally, fracking is exempted from the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act, the Superfund Act and the National Environmental Policy Act. It is also excluded from federal right-to-know laws as well as the Safe Drinking Water Act, which authorized the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to regulate all injection of toxic chemicals into the ground.
Fracking is a feminist issue. Sarah Jarvis reported earlier in the year on fracking’s toll on women. She quoted Sandra Steingraber, celebrated ecologist and author of “Raising Elijah” and “Living Downstream.” Steingraber argues that fracking violates a women’s reproductive rights. “If you want to plan a pregnancy and someone else’s chemicals sabotage that–it’s a violation of your rights as a woman to have agency over your own reproductive destiny.”
It’s maddening to see reports and opinion pieces that cajole and attempt to shame pregnant women for daring to have a glass of wine with her dinner while intoning that ‘there is no known minimum safe level of alcohol’ during pregnancy. But when it comes to gas and oil companies dumping radioactive fracking waste water into your river, suddenly, no one is interested in protecting the babies. Can someone explain what the known safe minimum level of radioactive fracking waste water is? Where’s the pearl clutching from talking heads on national television over that?
Women know what they are imbibing when they have a five ounce glass of Pinot Grigio at 32 weeks. Will someone from the gas and oil industry kindly let us all know what chemicals from fracking are in our ground, air, and water? ALL of the chemicals. Show us what great corporate citizens you are and voluntarily release all the chemicals ever used in fracking in our municipalities and states.
It’s the least you can do, you know, for the children.
Image Credit The Green Pavilion.