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California Halts Fracking Waste Injections amid Contamination Concerns

An emergency shutdown of 11 oil and gas waste injection sites has been ordered by California officials due to concerns companies may have been pumping fracking liquids and other waste into drinking water aquifers.

California’s Division of Oil and Gas and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR) distributed cease and desist orders to seven energy companies warning that they may be injecting flacking fluids into aquifers that could be a source of drinking water. The DOGGR said that their waste disposal “poses danger to life, health, property, and natural resources,” GantDaily.com reported. The state has confirmed that its investigation has been expanded to look at additional wells.

The order comes at a time when central California has been enduring a lengthy drought that has emptied reservoirs and cost the state $2.2 billion this year alone, according to GantDaily.com. The drought has forced many farmers across the state to supplement their water supply from underground aquifers, which is where the dangers of the fracking liquid come into play.

According to GantDaily.com, at least 100 of California’s aquifers were believed to be useless for drinking and farming due to poor quality, or because the aquifers were too deep underground to easily access. Several years ago California exempted those aquifers from environmental protection, which permitted the oil and gas industry to intentionally pollute them. However not all aquifers are exempted, which causes the system to be a mixture of protected and unprotected water resources deep underground.

According to the cease and desist orders, it looks likely that at least seven injection wells have been pumping fracking waste into fresh water aquifers protected by the law, and not other aquifers sacrificed by the state long ago, GantDaily.com reported.

“The aquifers in question with respect to the orders that have been issued are not exempt,” Ed Wilson, a spokesperson for the California Department of Conservation told GantDaily.com via email.

A 2012 investigation by ProPublica into more than 700,000 injection wells across the U.S. revealed wells were often poorly regulated and experienced high rates of failure. This information indicated that fracking practices were likely polluting underground water supplies that are supposed to be protected by federal law. Several of those water supplies are at the heart of this issue. The exempted aquifers were poorly defined and vaguely outlined, according to documents the state filed with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in’81.

This is not the first time California has expressed concern over fracking practices. In September 2013 the California Coastal Commission raised questions about the potential impact of offshore fracking by the federal government.

The commission, which oversees part of the coast’s development, also asked both the EPA and Department of the Interior to investigate what the federal government is doing, the Wall Street Journal reported. The commission’s biggest concern is that such offshore oil-rig fracking will increase the possibility of oil spilling into the ocean.

FDA Looking into New E-Cigarette Standards

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is in the process of developing tough product standards for electronic cigarettes and other nicotine delivery devices.

The new standards will be aimed at protecting public health while also enabling the FDA to withstand legal challenges, according to Mitchell Zeller, director of the FDA’s Center for Tobacco Products. Zeller said the FDA is looking into possible product standards in the areas of “addiction, toxicity and product appeal as it prepares to gain regulatory authority over electronic cigarettes and other nicotine-delivery devices,” Reuters reported. More FDA Looking into New E-Cigarette Standards

Texas Family Tells Jury of Air Quality Poisoned by Local Natural Gas Drilling

A Texas family told a Dallas jury on Tuesday that they are being sickened by natural gas wells near their property that are owned by Texas-based Aruba Petroleum, Inc.  A $9 million nuisance lawsuit filed against the company by the family is one of the first trials seeking to hold a company liable for medical problems allegedly linked to chemicals used in fracking.

The Parr family alleges that Aruba Petroleum exposed them to dangerous chemicals, gases, and industrial waste at some of the company’s 22 gas wells drilled near their 40-acre property in Wise County. They allege they’ve suffered numerous health problems, some of them so severe that they were unable to work and were forced to live in Bob Parr’s office instead of their home. The Parrs say their medical problems were caused by benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, xylene and other volatile organic compounds from the drilling sites, according to Law360.com. More Texas Family Tells Jury of Air Quality Poisoned by Local Natural Gas Drilling

EPA Hid Cancer Risks from Study Participants

Questions are being raised after a report revealed that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) failed to disclose cancer risks to volunteers used in research studies involving harmful pollutants.

The EPA recruited people for tests on pollutants in 2010 and 2011. The agency warned of dangers from diesel exhaust and tiny particles in its rules to cut pollution, but consent forms given out to the participants failed to mention cancer. The EPA said it didn’t mention the cancer because the agency considered the risks minimal from short-term exposure, according to the Office of Inspector General’s report. More EPA Hid Cancer Risks from Study Participants

West Virginia Residents Still Worried About Drinking Water

Health officials in Charleston, West Virginia have said that the drinking water is once again OK to drink after dangerous chemicals spilled into the water supply on Jan. 9. Not everyone, is buying that notion, however.
West Virginia resident Joe Merchant told CNN, when he runs the hot water, he will develop a headache within a few minutes from the steam. Merchant is just one of many people who do not feel secure about drinking or bathing in the water since the spill.

West Virginia Residents Still Concerned with Drinking Water a Month after Chemical Spill

It has been more than a month since a chemical spill in Charleston West Virginia contaminated the water supply of some 300,000 people, yet many residents are still wary of drinking the water.

The Huffington Post chronicled the story of West Virginia resident Jeanette Maddox, who is one of many people who goes out of her way to drive to a shopping center parking lot and fill jugs of water from the spigot of a tanker truck.  Maddox believes this to be a necessary burden to feel safe drinking water. More West Virginia Residents Still Concerned with Drinking Water a Month after Chemical Spill

West Virginia Residents Worried they are Inhaling Formaldehyde from Chemical Spill

More than three weeks after a chemical spill left 300,000 West Virginia residents without clean running water, there is new health concern: formaldehyde.

In the hours following the discovery of the leak, health officials struggled to provide accurate and reliable information about 4-methylcyclohexanemethanol, or MCHM, which was spilling into the Elk River. Residents were instructed not to cook or drink with their tap water but were told little else. Now it has come to light that MCHM can break down into formaldehyde, and residents are likely inhaling it, according to LATimes.com. More West Virginia Residents Worried they are Inhaling Formaldehyde from Chemical Spill

Freedom Industries Files for Bankruptcy as Lawsuits Pile Up

The company responsible for the chemical spill that left more than 300,000 people without clean drinking water for several days filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on Friday.

Freedom Industries filed the bankruptcy paperwork in federal bankruptcy court in Charleston. A lawyer for the company said the spill occurred “after a broken water line caused the ground to freeze beneath an aging chemical storage tank, pushing an unidentified object into the bottom of the tank,” the New York Times reported. More Freedom Industries Files for Bankruptcy as Lawsuits Pile Up

Freedom Industries Fails to Disclose Second Chemical in Spill for Nearly Two Weeks

The company responsible for the chemical spill that left about 300,000 people in West Virginia without tap water for several days did not inform investigators about a second chemical in the leak, state officials said.

Freedom Industries had previously only identified the chemical, 4-methylcyclohexane methanol, or crude MCHM, as spilling from the hole in one of their tanks. It was reported that 7,500 gallons of MCHM leaking and spilling into the Elk River, which provides the drinking water for Charleston and surrounding communities. The Material Safety Data Sheet for this substance shows that the chemical can be harmful if swallowed or breathed in and can lead to irritation in the skin and eyes, trouble breathing, nausea and non-stop vomiting. More Freedom Industries Fails to Disclose Second Chemical in Spill for Nearly Two Weeks

West Virginia American Water Pulls Tanks Due to Chemical Smell

West Virginia American Water pulled its bulk water tankers out of service after the company received complaints that the water being distributed to residents had the same odor as the water from last week’s chemical spill into the Elk River.

Kanawha County Manager Jennifer Sayre told the Charleston Gazette that reports of the licorice-like smell began coming in late Thursday afternoon regarding the water being distributed at the Crossings Mall in Elkview and at Riverside High School. Sayre said the county had received conflicting information about where those tankers were filled and elected to pull them out until everything was cleared up.

On Wednesday, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) alarmed local residents when it recommended that pregnant women not consume any of the water. While the tainted water continues to be investigated, bottle water is being handed out at local malls, recreation centers and police departments and fire stations, the Gazette reported.

State government and water company officials said they would continue to rely on the CDC for guidance. Thousands of West Virginia residents remain unable to use the water supply for anything more than flushing a toilet.

The chemical spill was first identified last week when a 48,000 tank from Freedom Industries leaked out some 7,500 gallons of a chemical known as 4-Methylcyclohexane Methanol – a foaming agent used in the coal preparation process. The Material Safety Data Sheet for this substance shows that the chemical can be harmful if swallowed or breathed in and can lead to irritation in the skin and eyes. Exposure to the chemical has also been linked to trouble breathing, nausea and non-stop vomiting.

A spokeswoman for West Virginia American Water Co., Laura Jordan, told CNN the company had received multiple calls about illnesses. Jordan said the company has advised those callers to seek medical attention if something does not feel right.

The original ban on using the water affected nine counties and left thousands of people unable to work, many for several days. Several communities closed down school, restaurants and other businesses because of the suspected dangers associated with the chemical spill.

The result has been the surfacing of at least eight class action lawsuits. The lawsuits allege that on Jan. 9, Freedom Industries “negligently and recklessly caused a chemical leak at its Etowah River Terminal plant, which resulted in a chemical spill into the Elk River,” the West Virginia Record reported.

The lawsuits further allege that Freedom Industries had a responsibility to the people in the surrounding communities to use reasonable care and properly run and operate its Etowah River Terminal plant. The lawsuit accuses Freedom of negligently and recklessly breaching its duty by causing the chemical leak and permitting or allowing the unlawful release of the chemical into the Elk River, the West Virginia Record reported.

It is expect the number of lawsuits will  increase in the coming days and weeks as the details involving why the spill occurred become available.