No 180 Posted by fw, May 27, 2011
“Every morning before my kids go to school I fill their water bottles from the same tap before they get on the bus. And every day the water in this jar becomes the blood of my kids. . . . Inside these bottles are raindrops. And those raindrops become us. Inside these bottles is our blood plasma. Inside these bottles is our cerebral spinal fluid. Inside these bottles are the tears of our children. Inside these bottles is the steam of their exhaled breath on a cool morning. And those are scientific facts. Hold these water bottles high. Inside these bottles is a sacrament. By protecting this water I protect my two children, which I am called upon as a mother to do. And what we love we must protect because that’s what love means. And love is an emotion that arises from a sense of responsibility for those who come after us.” Sandra Steingraber, speaking at an anti-fracking protest rally in Albany, NY.
Sandra Steingraber is an American biologist, author, poet, mother and cancer survivor in the tradition of Rachel Carson. Steingraber writes and lectures on the environmental factors that contribute to reproductive health problems and environmental links to cancer. Sandra’s story, Living Downstream: An Ecologist Looks at Cancer and the Environment (1997), is about her cancer and finding out that it is linked to the drinking water in her hometown of Trumansburg, NY. The book was subsequently the basis for a documentary, Living Downstream, (2010).
On May 2, 2011, Sandra Steingraber delivered an emotionally inspiring plea to a crowd of several hundred attending an anti-fracking protest rally in Albany. The rally on the Capitol lawn called on state leaders to safeguard public health and the environment from dirty gas drilling called hydraulic fracturing or fracking.
Sandra’s speech was captured on video. Watch it here. It’s an exemplar of citizen action at its best. A transcript follows the video. (Note: the very beginning of the speech was not recorded).
Geological origins of the Marcellus Shale
Let me give you a quick report about that experience. I spoke about geology. I said that a mile below our feet lies a shale chalkboard called Marcellus. It’s a graveyard formed 400 million years ago when a shallow ocean covered New York. Much less oxygen in the atmosphere in those days, so that when the residents of that ocean perished, the sea lilies and the squid their bodies did not decompose but instead turned into tiny bubbles of methane. A fizz of champagne that became trapped in the sediment of the ocean floor along with heavy metals, arsenic, lead, mercury and radioactive elements in isotopes – radon, strontium, uranium. And it sifted down to the seabed from an adjacent mountain range as it eroded into the water.
Connection between fracking or hydrofracking and fetal toxicology
I spoke about fetal toxicology, the ways in which those hydrocarbons and heavy metals and radioactive substances are released to the surface of the environment during the process of fracking, and could easily find their ways into the bodies of pregnant women in ways that undermine child development. I spoke about toluene, a developmental toxicant that wafts up as a vapor from wellheads, and which at vanishingly small concentrations has the power to sabotage migrating fetal neurons in ways that raise the risk for life-long learning disabilities. Toluene extinguishes human intelligence.
Other fracking-related contaminants
I spoke about the polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons released from the endless fleet of diesel-burning 18-wheelers that will fill our rural roads and from the condensers and compressors that will fill our fields and forests. And I spoke about the evidence linking these particular air pollutants to cancer, diabetes, stroke, heart attack and to premature birth, which is the leading cause of disability in this nation and to asthma, which carries and $18 billion a year price tag and still causes health care costs to soar.
Fracking’s impact on the water cycle
I spoke about the hydrology, the ways in which fracking exhumes vast quantities of fresh water in deep geological strata and so makes it disappear forever from the water cycle, altering the flow of streams and the depths of water tables.
Pro-fracking voices deny, ignore, rationalize, and belittle
And when I finished the response I received from those arguing from the pro-fracking position was: “That’s all very nice but our energy policy needs to be based on science not emotion” – [audience boos] which was interesting given that I was the only one at the table with a PhD in science – [audience cheers]. Denying the evidence for harm, pretending there is no problem, rationalizing destructive behavior, belittle those who ask questions – are these not symptoms that we read about in social service pamphlets warning us about substance abusers?
Allegory of the drunkard
Consider the drunk who has already cashed out his kid’s college fund, hocked the family heirlooms, burnt the furniture and terrified the dog. He’s beginning to grasp that he has a problem. And he’s also running out of whisky. He flirts with the idea of alcoholics anonymous. But wait. He suddenly discovers a fully loaded wine cellar buried deep beneath the basement of his house. Falling in love with his own cleverness, he begins to lay plans to blow up the foundation to get at it. His own family members hold an emergency meeting. What will they decide to do? Stay out of his way? Help him get the wine and regulate its consumption? Insist on overseeing the detonation of the basement? Or will they all join together and bar the way to the cellar steps? [Loud round of cheers and applause].
“New Yorkers, what should we do about fracking? Enable it or ban it?”
New York, we are those terrorized family members cohabiting with dangerous drunks. What do you think? Should we enable this irrational behavior? [Loud No’s] Or should we bar the way to the cellar? [Loud Yes’s].Should we ask for a state-wide ban on fracking? [Ringing Yes’s].
Sandra’s toast: “To the environmental protection of water”
All right. In closing, let me tell you about one more recent experience. Two weeks ago I attended the fortieth anniversary party for the US Environmental Protection Agency, which was held here in New York at Columbia University in Manhattan. I was the luncheon speaker. And at the end of my remarks I proposed a toast to the EPA. I asked everyone in that room – all 350 of them – to pour themselves a glass of unfiltered New York City tap water, which is drawn from reservoirs high in the Catskill Mountains. And I poured myself a glass of water from a mason jar I brought from my village home in Tomkins County. My drinking water comes from an aquifer of the west bank of Cayuga Lake. A half mile across that lake, on the opposite side, in 2009 poisonous radioactive frack fluid from Pennsylvania was surreptitiously dumped through a waste treatment plan half mile from where my children swim and a half mile from where I draw my drinking water. I found this out by reading the New York Times two years later. So standing at that podium at Columbia University I poured myself a glass of Trumansburg [NY] tap water. And then I poured a second glass for EPA [Region 2 New York] administrator, Judith Enck, and I asked her to join me on stage for a toast to environmental protection of water. And she did. She drank my water. It was a great moment.
“Inside these bottles is a sacrament. By protecting this water I protect my two children”
So, New York, let’s recreate this toast. You have water bottles, right? — filled with water drawn from your reservoirs and aquifers. Take ‘em out, right now. Unscrew those caps and raise your water high. [Sandra raises up her jar of water]. Raise ‘em up. Raise ‘em up. In my jar here is the water from my kitchen tap. Every morning before my kids go to school I fill their water bottles from the same tap before they get on the bus. And every day the water in this jar becomes the blood of my kids. So take out your water bottles and hold them high. Inside these bottles are raindrops. And those raindrops become us. Inside these bottles is our blood plasma. Inside these bottles is our cerebral spinal fluid. Inside these bottles are the tears of our children. Inside these bottles is the steam of their exhaled breath on a cool morning. And those are scientific facts. Hold these water bottles high. Inside these bottles is a sacrament. By protecting this water I protect my two children, which I am called upon as a mother to do. And what we love we must protect because that’s what love means. And love is an emotion that arises from a sense of responsibility for those who come after us.
Another toast: “To the purity of unfiltered tap water.”
Here is my toast, New York: “To the purity of unfiltered tap water. Let it turn into our blood plasma and fill our heart with courage. To the unfractured future. To a state-wide ban on fracking in New York state.” [She drinks from her bottle].
Let’s do it! [Rousing cheers].
END OF TRANSCRIPT