Link between man’s cancer, frac’ing fluids questioned
Post Independent staff
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
RIFLE, Colorado – A local man has died of cancer, after what his family believes was exposure to toxic chemicals related to the gas drilling business.
Jose Lara, 42, died on Sept. 11 following a battle with pancreatic and liver cancers that began at the end of 2009, according to his widow, Maria.
Lara worked for Rain For Rent, a company out of Rifle that, among other things, leases out tanks to gas drilling companies for storage of fluids used in the process known as hydraulic fracturing, or “frac’ing.” It involves injection of vast amounts of water, sand and chemicals into a well bore to fracture rock strata and make it easier for gas and oil to flow to the surface.
Hailed by the industry as a safe and effective way to get at deeply buried gas deposits that have not been accessible before, frac’ing has come under fire from critics worried about contamination of groundwater supplies and hazards to human health.
Some of the chemicals used in the frac’ing fluids are known to cause cancer, according to health officials, though the industry maintains the fluids are made up mostly of water and sand or other particulates.
The chemical additives, industry spokespersons have said, make up only a minute part of the fluids’ formulas, and are not hazardous to human health.
In May of this year, Lara told a Grand Junction Daily Sentinel reporter that he had worked at the job for about six years, and that the fumes at times would be overpowering as he power-washed the tanks, after they were returned by the drilling companies once the frac’ing process was completed.
Maria Lara told the Post Independent on Sept. 23 that her husband was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in late December of 2009.
Lara, who knew he was sick before getting the diagnosis, stopped working after receiving the news, Maria said, but did not get any monetary assistance from his former employer.
Rain For Rent officials could not be reached for comment.
But, said Maria, Jose’s co-workers got together and donated some of their hours to him “so he could keep getting a paycheck” and stay on the company’s health insurance plan.
In addition, on Feb. 21, the Catholic Church in Rifle held a benefit dinner and silent auction to raise money to help the family.
In March or April, Maria Lara said, the company insurance stopped and the family had to go on COBRA (Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act) health insurance, a federal program passed by Congress in 1986.
“And we had to pay for all of that,” she said of the COBRA premiums. The company did not contribute to the cost, she said.
Maria Lara told the Post Independent that the family is working with an attorney to file a lawsuit against several companies that are involved in the frac’ing business in the Piceance Basin gas patch.
That attorney, Paul Gertz of Glenwood Springs, said on Friday that Ninth Judicial District Judge Denise Lynch ruled last summer that Gertz could videotape Jose Lara’s testimony in the case, in case he passed away before the matter could get to trial.
That has been done, Gertz said, but now he has run into a brick wall in his efforts to analyze the chemicals that Lara and his fellow workers have been dealing with in the cleaning process.
Rain For Rent and its client companies, Gertz said, are “refusing to cooperate in terms of sampling of what was in those tanks. They [the companies involved] are hiding it like it’s the Coca Cola formula.”
He said that until he is able to sample the fluids in the tanks, and get expert analysis of the compounds involved, he is stymied as to whether a lawsuit against the companies should go forward.
If it did, Gertz said, he would seek undetermined damages for pain and suffering, mental anguish, loss of consortium between Lara, his wife and his family, and loss of income.
“He was making well over $75,000 per year when he stopped working,” Gertz explained, and now Maria Lara and her four kids are on their own.
“You can tell from my voice I’m really angry about this,” Gertz concluded. “I think it’s really a shame the way these companies are allowed to get away with what they’re doing.”
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