A scientist in South Africa has warned that the growth of the hydraulic fracturing—or “fracking”—industry in that country could pose a risk of silicosis, tuberculosis, and cancer to workers, as well as residents in surrounding communities. Professor Bob Mash of Stellenbosch University said in an article published in the SA Medical Journal people living as far as 200 kilometers (124 miles) from fracking operations may be at risk of illness from exposure to the airborne silica produced by these sites.
Fracking is a drilling process that used to access oil and natural gas deposits that were inaccessible to older drilling methods. At fracking sites, large amounts of silica sand and fracking fluids are pumped into the ground, causing fractures to form in the rocks below and releasing the oil or gas that is trapped inside.
Although fracking has become widespread in recent years, scientists like Dr. Mash have raised questions about the long-term health effects of fracking on drilling workers and those who live in the area around fracking sites. Dr. Mash wrote that workers and residents may develop silicosis, tuberculosis, or other respiratory diseases due to long-term exposure to the airborne silica dust that is produced by fracking operations. He also warned that exposure to potentially carcinogenic chemicals used at fracking sites—including benzene, cadmium, ethylbenzene, formaldehyde, nickel sulphate, and boric acid—could lead to an increased cancer risk, including kidney, breast, and prostate cancer, leukemia, or brain tumors.
Despite the health risks associated with fracking, Dr. Mash says that not enough research has been done to assess the long-term effects of the South African fracking industry on workers and residents of that country. He writes that South Africans should take a cautious approach to expanding fracking operations until more is known about the dangers of fracking and the steps that can be taken to prevent illnesses linked to these oil and natural gas drilling sites.