Published on Alternet (http://www.alternet.org)
Fracking May Release Cancer-Causing Radioactive Gas, According to Surprising New Study
By Reynard Loki  / AlterNet 
April 10, 2015
Pennsylvania residents concerned about their state's fracking boom have another thing to worry about: radon. In a new study, researchers at Johns Hopkins University found that homes located in suburban and rural areas near fracking sites have an overall radon concentration 39 percent higher  than those located in non-fracking urban areas. The study included almost 2 million radon readings taken between 1987 and 2013 done in over 860,000 buildings from every county, mostly homes. It was published Thursday in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.
Correlation not causation, but still compelling
While no direct link has yet been established, the association between fracking and radon is compelling, particularly with one of the study's findings: "Between 2005-2013, 7,469 unconventional wells were drilled in Pennsylvania. Basement radon concentrations fluctuated between 1987-2003, but began an upward trend from 2004-2012  in all county categories," the researchers wrote.
That trending period just happens to start when Pennsylvania's fracking boom began: Between January 1, 2005, and March 2, 2012, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection issued 10,232 drilling permits ; only 36 requests were denied.
Correlation doesn't imply causation, but the data presents a persuasive case that fracking may indeed release radon from the bedrock of Pennsylvania, which sits on the shale gas-rich Marcellus shale, a 384-million-year-old formation of sedimentary rock that stretches some 600 miles beneath several states, including New York, Ohio and West Virginia.
According to the researchers, Pennsylvania "has had some of the highest indoor radon levels in the U.S."
Odorless, tasteless and invisible, radon is a naturally occurring radioactive gas that is formed by the decay of uranium in rock, soil and water. Once produced, it moves through the ground and into the air, while some remains dissolved in groundwater where it can appear in water wells .
Found in all 50 states, radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer worldwide, after smoking. The EPA estimates approximately 21,000 lung cancer deaths  in the U.S. are radon-related.
According to the National Safety Council, "Radon gas decays into radioactive particles that can get trapped in your lungs when you breathe. As they break down further, these particles release small bursts of energy. This can damage lung tissue and lead to lung cancer  over the course of your lifetime."
More studies needed
Across the border, New York's landmark ban on fracking followed a long-awaited report by the state's health department on the public health effects of fracking, which concluded that more studies are needed  "to more fully understand the connections between risk factors, such as air and water pollution, and public health outcomes among populations living in proximity to shale gas operations."
While the relationship between fracking and radon merits further study, the Johns Hopkins researchers are clear about one thing that should worry anyone living near a fracking site: "The development of unconventional natural gas in the Marcellus shale in Pennsylvania has the potential to exacerbate several pathways for entry of radon into buildings."
Reynard Loki is AlterNet's environment editor.
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Excerpt: "The United Nations' top investigator on the use of torture has accused Washington of dragging its feet over his requested visits to prisons and refusing to give him access to inmates at Guantánamo."
Juan Méndez, the UN's top investigator on torture, also said the US state department has yet to be able to visit federal prisons despite two years of discussions. (photo: Brennan Linsley/AP)
UN Torture Expert Refused Access to Guantánamo Bay and US Federal Prisons
By AFP, Guardian UK
12 March 15
Juan Méndez says he has been waiting more than two years for access to a range of state and federal prisons and asks: ‘Is the United States hiding something?’
The United Nations’ top investigator on the use of torture has accused Washington of dragging its feet over his requested visits to prisons and refusing to give him access to inmates at Guantánamo.
Juan Méndez said he had been waiting for more than two years for the United States to provide him access to a range of state and federal prisons, where he wants to probe the use of solitary confinement.
Méndez told reporters in Geneva he wanted to visit federal prisons in New York and Colorado and state prisons in New York, California and Louisiana, among others.
He said the US state department had been working to help him gain access to the state prisons, but after two years of discussions he had yet to receive a positive answer.
“And in one of my last conversations they said that federal prisons were unavailable,” he said.
“I fully expect the United States to secure invitations from state prisons for me, but also to be able to visit federal prisons as well,” he said.
According to Méndez, “it is not rare” for prisoners in the United States to spend 25-30 years in solitary confinement, locked up in a cell with no human contact for 22-23 hours a day.
“It’s simply outrageous that it’s taking such a long time to provide access to American detention facilities,” said Jamil Dakwar, head of human rights at the American Civil Liberties Union.
“This begs the question: is the United States hiding something?” he wrote to AFP in an email.
According to the ACLU, more than 80,000 people are held in solitary confinement in the United States on any given day.
Méndez said he was particularly concerned about the use of solitary confinement for underage offenders.
Solitary confinement for children “should never happen, even for a single day”, he said, pointing out that the punishment, widely considered cruel even for adults, was “particularly harmful for children because of their state of development and their special needs”.
Méndez also harshly criticised Washington for not providing him with “acceptable” access to the US military prison at Guantánamo Bay in Cuba, and to the 122 detainees still being held there.
Washington, he said, had invited him to visit the prison camp in 2012, but under “unacceptable” conditions.
He would be allowed to only visit parts of the prison, and “I am not allowed to have any unmonitored or even monitored conversations with any inmate in Guantánamo Bay,” he said.
Méndez said he had declined the invitation and asked the United States to replace it with one he can accept, to no avail.
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