Each generation in America seems to have its own epidemic or major health issue. In early America there were epidemics of measles, malaria and diphtheria. Tuberculosis became the health issue in the 19th century as more and more people became congested in big cities.
The 1950’s had the Polio epidemic and the 1980’s saw a new disease that became known simply as AIDS(auto-immune deficiency syndrome). Heart disease became the leading killer in the U.S. in the 1990’s and remains the most serious health problem today. But lurking on the horizon is a new health threat related to how we provide energy to our homes and businesses.
In the wide-open spaces of Wyoming you would think breathing freely would not be an issue. Such is not the case in that part of the state that has the greatest number of natural gas wells. According to a Huffington Post report, residents in the Upper Green River Basin have recently experienced “ozone levels in the gas-rich basin [that rose] above the highest levels recorded in the biggest U.S. cities last year.” (Wyoming Air Pollution Worse Than Los Angeles Due To Gas Drilling, by Mead Gruver, HuffPo, 3/8/11)
A 2009 case study of mercury wet deposition in eastern Ohio by E.M. White, G.J. Keeler and M.S. Landis “found that most of the mercury pollution there came from the power plants that ring Steubenville, Ohio.” African-Americans made up the majority of the population in this region. This was reflective of a nation-wide trend where low-income, less educated people suffer from these power plant-related pollutants more because they gravitate toward the cheaper property areas around these facilities. What makes this worse is the mortality rate increases that are a direct result of lack of adequate health insurance coverage.
For those people who live in these “high risk” areas insurance premiums are likely to jump and will likely be out of reach for low-income families. Location is one of the major key risk factors that health insurers look at. As one report stated “the concept of risk is very important …in the world of insurance. Insurance company employees called actuaries use statistical risk analysis to determine how much to charge in the way of premiums for insurance coverage”
The often unseen effects of pollution on people are often outweighed by the more apparent need for cheap energy to their home. By the time they do become aware that they are victims of this cheap energy source their health has deteriorated to a point that health insurance coverage, if it does exist for them, can do little to remedy the situation.
For the low-income and low-educated families that have little choice in the matter, the effects of fossil fuel pollution from energy plants is something they have resigned themselves to if they must accommodate their economic status to survive. But those who have invited this risk to improve their financial situation are mostly to blame for their condition.
This didn’t go unnoticed by one Wyoming resident in that Upper Green River Basin area. “They’re trading off health for profit. It’s outrageous. We’re not a Third World country,” said Elaine Crumpley, a retired science teacher who lives just outside Pinedale.
Apparently many put little thought into any adverse consequences of their choice, trusting the gas companies to do the right thing. Now it appears that there are few legal options to right this mistake in judgment. But that oversight still doesn’t excuse the hazards that they and their neighbors face from an industry that, like any business, seeks to reduce its liabilities that impact their bottom line.
Many of these hazards were known in advance by the coal and natural gas industries but have avoided any serious attempt to correct them until being forced to by the regulatory agency who overseas them – the EPA. A New York Times piece has revealed that the EPA knew of and attempted to control these hazards we are dealing with today but were often blocked by policy wonks in government, as far back 1987 with the Office of Legal Counsel in the Reagan White House.
The same obstructionists exist today who are battling the EPA’s right to monitor CO2 output from these coal-fired plants and toxic chemicals leaking out of natural gas wells, especially in Texas where an ultra-conservative Governor Perry and state legislators have accused the EPA of government over-reach, despite the fact that several CEO’s who operate coal-fired power plants are prepared to adapt new EPA rules to reduce toxic waste levels. These are also the same people who sided with the health insurance industry during the fight to establish health care reform last year.
These advocates of the fossil fuel and health insurance industries always claim they are just looking out for the consumer to prevent any undue burden to their already thinly stretched budgets. But it’s suspiciously looking like they have the special interests of these corporate giants at the top of their list rather than their broader constituency.
- E.P.A. Struggles to Regulate Natural Gas Industry (nytimes.com)
- Report Says Mercury Pollution is Health Threat (doyourpart.com)
- Mary Anne Hitt: An Unprecedented Attack From Polluters (huffingtonpost.com)
- Toxic water from natural gas wells poison US rivers (msnbc.msn.com)