ONE of America’s foremost toxicologists has warned that regulators are not doing enough to monitor the health and environmental effects of fracking.

And Dr David Brown said the Scottish Government should maintain its moratorium on the controversial process, at least until more was known about its potential dangers.

Brown is director of public health toxicology for Environment and Human Health Inc, a group of physicians, public health professionals and policy experts, and has held senior posts in the field across the United States. He is also involved with the Southwestern Pennsylvania Environmental Health Project, a non-profit organisation that supports people who believe their health may be affected by fracking.

Speaking exclusively to The National, he said the problem with the process was that it created health and environmental effects that were not being properly regulated.

“The regulatory apparatus that would normally be in place if there were going to be widespread health and environmental effects is not effectively being implemented in the areas I’ve had experience of – that’s not every state in the US where it’s done, but it is most of them.

“It [fracking] could possibly be done safely but it is not. In a public health sense if somebody’s going to be exposed to something there’s a minimum amount of information you should obtain before you do it, otherwise you allow the exposure to occur and then you count the bodies.

“We’re in the latter stage right now. We haven’t paid attention to the potential exposures and it’s going to be very difficult to do that for several reasons, leaving out the fact that the regulatory process is not functioning in the US at a reasonable, or appropriate level.”

Brown said one major problem was that we did not know what substances were being released when shale rock was fractured.

“Congress has forced the industry to give information about what they use in terms of chemicals and other things to fracture the rock, but that is probably not complete,” he said.

“Shale rock was deposited around 300 million years ago and it has now been overburdened as the Appalachian Mountains have been eroded over the years, so it’s now about a mile beneath the ground.

“But the debris that has been squeezed down into the shale which is only about 50 or 60 feet thick, has been at very high temperatures and pressures for thousands if not millions of years.

“Those kinds of conditions form compounds and when we go in and fracture the rock to allow the methane out, other things also come out with it, and we have an incomplete understanding of what these are.”

He said when the Pennsylvania project started five years ago, it was thought the problems were related solely to fracking chemicals.

“There is a problem with emissions from fracking, but what we’ve found is that once the wells are in place and the fracking and flaring have gone, the health effects are still there.

“So that indicates strongly that there are other materials that are being released from the shale rock deposits that are being distributed throughout the environment and into the air and water.

“No-one has thought it was important to determine what those compounds are and what they are doing to the environment. We evaluate what people are telling us and measure exposures and try to infer what the health effects are that could be coming out of the gas.

“The problem is we don’t know what the chemicals are.”

Brown said the process could probably be done safely, but more work was needed, the minimum being finding out what people were being exposed to and working out if it could be extracted without being released into the environment.

“As far as I’ve been able to understand we do not have enough information to do that. One thing that is coming out is radioactivity that has decayed over the years, so we have very old radioactivity and radioactive materials.

“One of them is radium which is water soluble so it can move with the water and move through the environment.

“Air pollution regulations are designed to regulate motor vehicle emissions and so on, they are not designed to monitor these chemicals. It would require some very thoughtful writing of regulations – unless you know what’s coming out you couldn’t regulate it.

“I think your government should keep a moratorium in place, but there is a level of information that should be obtained before we go ahead with fracking.”

Brown’s comments came as Professor Peter Strachan, from Robert Gordon University in Aberdeen, one of Scotland’s highest-profile academics, prepared to launch a social media thunderclap – an online “flash” mob – against fracking. It’s happening at 8pm tomorrow under the hashtag #BanFracking 2017 and Strachan said the social reach so far was nearing three million supporters.