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Toxic Chemicals Used in Fracking Leaves Texans’ Health at Risk

By Damiana De La Paz

According to a new report by Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR), Texans may be unknowingly exposed to highly hazardous substances by the fracking industry.

The report shows that Texans’ health may be sacrificed after finding that oil and gas companies have used more than 21 tons “of a class of extremely toxic and persistent chemicals known as PFAS” in their wells since 2013.

Even at low levels, PFAS are highly toxic and dangerous because of their harmful health effects and their extreme resistance to breaking down in the environment, which is why they are known as “forever chemicals.”

PSR reported that PTFE/Teflon and fluoroalkyl alcohol substituted polyethylene glycol were two forever chemicals found in Texas oil and gas wells. Alarmingly, there are possibly more PFAS unreported due to lax Texas laws that do not require oil and gas companies and chemical manufacturers to disclose fracking chemicals if labeled as a “trade secret.”

According to the report, between 2013 and 2022, companies utilized the “trade secret” label to avoid reporting fracking chemicals in 58,000 oil and gas wells in 183 Texas counties. It has led to 6 billion pounds of unidentified chemicals used in Texas wells.

“Allowing frackers to operate without oversight leaves Texans in the dark while putting our water and health at risk,” said Adrian Shelley, Public Citizen’s Texas Office Director. “Lawmakers and state regulators must stop siding with industry interests and protect their constituents and our water supply.”

Shelley contributed to reviewing the PSR report.

The lack of transparency about these chemicals to the public increases the possibility of Texans being directly exposed to PFAS and their groundwater and well water.

”PFAS are powerfully toxic, they move readily through water, and they last for centuries in the environment,” said Barbara Gottlieb, director for environment and health at Physicians for Social Responsibility. “When you consider the tons of PFAS that have been used in Texas wells, plus the billions of pounds of chemicals whose identity we can’t even know, we’re looking at a grave potential threat to Texans’ health.”

These findings have prompted PSR to make recommendations for the state that follows Colorado’s lead by banning PFAS use in oil and gas extractions and expanding public disclosure.

Rather than continuously injecting PFAS into oil and gas wells, PSR calls for companies and manufacturers to replace the toxic chemicals with less persistent and less harmful substances to better protect Texans’ health and keep the environment healthy.

Current Texas laws that permit companies to withhold information about chemicals because it is a trade secret should immediately be eliminated to expand public disclosure. Texans have the right to know about all chemicals they could potentially be exposed to and how exposure to these chemicals could negatively impact their health.

Damiana De La Paz is a student at the University of Texas majoring in journalism. Damiana is the Spring 2023 communication intern for the Texas office of Public Citizen in Austin.