Storm clouds loom over a borehole windmill near Carnavon in South Africa's remote and arid Northern Cape province in this picture taken May 17, 2012. Carnavon is the proposed South African site for the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) telescope. South Africa is bidding against Australia to host the SKA, which will be the world's largest radio telescope when completed. Picture taken May 17, 2012. REUTERS/Mike Hutchings (SOUTH AFRICA - Tags: SCIENCE TECHNOLOGY)

Cape Town - The Cancer Association of SA (Cansa) says about 150 of the chemicals that companies use in shale-gas fracking are known to cause cancer or disrupt the endocrine system, leading to possible birth defects.

If water was polluted with fracking chemicals, it could lead to an increase in the cancer rate in the Karoo.

Canda said yesterday there were more than 1 000 documented cases in the US of contaminated drinking water next to areas of shale-gas drilling, and people had suffered sensory, respiratory and neurological damage.

Cansa’s acting head of research, Carl Albrecht, said the chemical of greatest concern was benzene.

“It is a volatile chemical and can go into the air. If young kids are breathing it in, it can cause leukaemia.”

Another was formaldehyde, classified as a group one carcinogen by the Agency for Research on Cancer, the World Health Organisation’s cancer agency. Albrecht said because of the high pressure and the depth of fracking operations, it was not surprising that there had been spills of fracking fluid. Between 20 to 30 million litres of water were pumped into boreholes under high pressure to release the gas.

These boreholes went through underground aquifers, on which Karoo towns and agriculture depended for their water. “The heart of the problem is that carcinogenic pollution of drinking water could increase the cancer rate in the Karoo.”

Cansa has now called for extensive baseline studies of Karoo water, so that if there is contamination, there would be proof that it had happened after fracking had begun.

Albrecht said many court cases in the US had been thrown out because people who claimed oil companies had polluted their water could not prove it as no water sampling had been done prior to the start of fracking.

“Also, the contaminated water needs to be disposed of, and there is not clarity on how this will happen in the Karoo. The fracking fluid could be laced with up to 750 chemicals, of which 150 are known carcinogens and/or endocrine disrupting chemicals suspected to be involved in various cancers.”

As well as putting toxic chemicals into the ground, fracking released toxic cadmium and lead 210 when the rocks were fractured.

Cansa acting chief executive Elize Joubert said it would inform all government departments of its anti-fracking position. “If government allowed fracking to go ahead, Cansa would work with other experts to try to get regulations in place to reduce the risk.

Albrecht said the pre-fracking water sampling results must be done professionally and be put on the internet. That way anyone who suspected water had been polluted could compare post-fracking test results with pre-fracking test results. “We want full disclosure of chemicals in the fracking fluid, which had been kept very secret in the US.”

Cansa was teaming up with the Treasure the Karoo Action Group and had formulated 16 recommendations about baseline water data to ensure transparency. Fracking companies must release all data gathered before, during and after fracking, and it must be placed on the internet, where it can be used in litigation if necessary.

Cape Times