Friends of the Earth has been ridiculed after suggesting sand cause cancer, in their latest attempt to demonise hydraulic fracturing (fracking).
The group distributed thousands of leaflets claiming fracking could lead to cancer because it involves “pumping millions of litres of water containing a toxic cocktail of chemicals deep underground… [that] could end up in your drinking water”.
When fracking company Cuadrilla complained it did not use toxic chemicals, Friends of the Earth responded: “We understand that Cuadrilla used a significant amount of sand to frack the well at Preese Hall [in Lancashire in 2011]. Frack sand tends to contain significant amounts of silica which is a known carcinogen.”
The group provided a link to a report by Clive Mitchell of the British Geological Survey to back up their assertion, but Mr Mitchell dismissed their claims, telling The Times: “It’s tantamount to scaremongering. It’s inaccurate and misleading.”
He said that industrial workers who breathe fine silica dust could develop the lung condition silicosis, but those particles were over 50 times smaller than sand grains.
Professor Paul Young of the University of Glasgow also rubbished their concerns about Silica, saying: “Sand is silica. It’s exactly the same stuff that’s on every sandy beach in the country.
“What are they proposing? That we treat all beaches as contaminated land and pave them over?
“The debate about fracking should be on the basis of reason, not wild, unsubstantiated allegations that reveal that they don’t have the first clue about mainstream chemistry, let alone environmental toxicology.”
Friends of the Earth also claimed that Cuadrilla used “polyacrylamide, which contains acrylamide, a probable carcinogen.”
However, Cuadrilla’s Chief Executive Francis Egan said that polyacrylamide was already widely used in the industry, including by water companies. It would not break down into acrylamide unless exposed to much higher temperatures than already experienced in fracking, he added.
Mr Egan said it was therefore “irresponsible and shameful” for a charity to make such an accusation.