As part of Weber State University’s Convocation Lecture Series and in conjunction with the yearlong, campus-wide Water Works series, WSU hosted a presentation by Sandra Steingraber, author of critically acclaimed novel “Living Downstream.” Steingraber, having served as an authority on how the environment links to cancer and human health, spoke Thursday afternoon about the dangerous effects of “fracking,” the commonly used term for hydraulic fracturing.
Fracking is a means of extracting natural gases from within the earth through the drilling of deep natural-gas wells. Once a well is created, millions of gallons of pressurized water, sand and chemicals are injected into the newfound pocket in the earth. This allows the pressure to fracture the shale enough that fissures allow natural gas to be extracted more freely. Steingraber insisted that fracking adds significant amounts of carcinogens into the air and water in the environment.
In 2010, Steingraber teamed up with filmmakers to create a feature-length documentary aimed at reaching more of the public, based on her novel.
“I believe our grandchildren will look back on us now, and marvel that our economy was once dependent on chemicals that were killing the planet, and killing ourselves, and they will think of it as unthinkable,” Steingraber said. “An environmental human rights movement is a vision under which I labor, and which may, if we all work together in concert, become a self-fulfilling prophecy. May it be so.”
Working with more than 15 New York state cancer organizations and physicians, Steingraber drafted a nine-page appeal letter to New York governor Andrew M. Cuomo in 2011, writing, “Hydraulic fracturing introduces cancer risks from the start and into perpetuity.” She forwarded the letter to almost 20 influential senators, assembly members, committee heads and CEOs.
“We, the undersigned, represent the more than 103,000 New Yorkers diagnosed every year with cancer, as well as the loved ones of the more than 35,000 who die annually from cancer” is the introduction of the letter. Almost two years later, the state of New York hasn’t stopped fracking practices.
One WSU nurse practitioner, Collette Renstrom, took a stand of her own, writing a letter to Senator Orrin Hatch.
“(I said) please look into fracking, think of the health consequences . . . and I not only wrote him about the water, but about the small earthquakes (fracking) causes,” Renstrom said.
Renstrom said Steingraber’s words inspired her.
“I didn’t know that you could absorb chemicals just by showering . . .” she said. “I just want to go home and tell everybody to take shorter showers!”
Renstrom said she felt enlightened by Steingraber’s presentation, but also a little worried.
“These things are public health, and obviously these measures are being ignored, just for the dollar. It’s scary.”
Catherine Randquist, a WSU sophomore, also said individual action should be taken to help the environment.
“People should be more aware of the way that their actions affect the environment and act accordingly,” Randquist said.
Steingraber has advocated for the needs of individuals, communities and countries to stop their dependence on gas companies. According to Steingraber, this is an effort to stop the tainting of the planet and its people.
“We should become carcinogen abolitionists. The chemicals simply need to be phased out,” she said. “When carcinogens are deliberately introduced into the environment, some number of vulnerable persons are consigned to death.”
Water Works is a yearlong series presented by WSU that focuses on the water issues in the community and country. More information about the Water Works series is available at www.weber.edu/waterworks.