Carnegie Mellon Study: “There Is No Support” for Activists’ Claims on Radon and Marcellus Gas
Researchers from Carnegie Mellon University recently released a report concluding that “there is no support” to back up activists’ claims about cancer risks from Marcellus shale gas.
This is kind of a blast from the past for EID, as it is the latest study to debunk the work of Dr. Marvin Resnikoff, who made a name for himself several years ago by superficially heightening concern over radon in the Marcellus. Calling out Resnikoff’s study in particular, the Carnegie Mellon report states that he “provided insufficient documentation of the methodology used” and “[a]t this time there is no support for the high mortality argument offered by Resnikoff.”
The researchers assert that previous estimates of cancer risk are “speculative” at best, rely on non-peer reviewed conclusions, and overestimate radon exposure of most Marcellus natural gas customers. They find that the difference between radon levels in the average American home compared to a home using Marcellus natural gas is “insignificant.” They add that lung cancer risk to those using Marcellus natural gas “is not high enough to cause a measureable change” in the number of people who are likely to develop the disease in the region.
These conclusions align with assertions made by other respected institutions, including:
- U.S. Geological Survey: Resnikoff “relied on theoretical calculations utilizing limited data from geologic analogs.”
- New York Dept. of Environmental Conservation: Radon levels in Marcellus natural gas are “essentially equal to background values” and “do not indicate an exposure concern for workers or the general public.”
- Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (PADEP): “[T]here is little potential for additional radon exposure to the public due to the use of natural gas extracted from geologic formations located in Pennsylvania.”
The report goes on to debunk claims by anti-fracking activists that hydraulic fracturing in the area is linked to high levels of radon that have been found in some Pennsylvania homes. The Carnegie Mellon report is very clear that:
“Some of the highest indoor concentrations have been found in the Northeast. The major routes of radon entry to homes are cracks and joints in home basements or foundations.”
That squares with what many experts have said. Kevin Stewart, director of environmental health at the American Lung Association of the Mid-Atlantic noted that high levels of radon have been observed in homes “going back to the 1980s” well before fracking was occurring in the area. The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has long documented radon in homes and explained how it can seep in through the soil:
“Radon is a radioactive gas. It comes from the natural decay of uranium that is found in nearly all soils. It typically moves up through the ground to the air above and into your home through cracks and other holes in the foundation. Your home traps radon inside, where it can build up. Any home may have a radon problem. This means new and old homes, well-sealed and drafty homes, and homes with or without basements. Radon from soil gas is the main cause of radon problems.” (emphasis added)
If the absence of Resnikoff’s work from the hydraulic fracking debate over the past few years casted any doubt on the legitimacy of his claims, this latest report should solidify them as unfounded.