Many objections are being raised about hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, in Kentucky, a method of drilling for oil and gas deposits in places like Eastern Kentucky.
A more serious concern is based on the fact that the fracking process releases radon gas. Radon is a poisonous gas produced by the radioactive decay of uranium.
Normally it is contained in bedrock or shale as much as two miles underground and gradually released into the soil and atmosphere.
Even this slow release over time can cause lung cancer, however, the deep drilling and fracturing of the shale containing radon releases it more rapidly and in greater amounts.
Two experiences in my life are the basis of my strong conviction that it is imperative for the state and counties directly involved, like Estill and Madison, to do whatever is necessary to prevent or stop fracking.
The first experience is related to the fact that radon is second only to smoking as the leading cause of lung cancer in the world. According to the Swiss Federal Office of Public Health, "Radon is responsible for 200 to 300 deaths a year in Switzerland, and is second only to smoking as a leading cause of lung cancer.
My sister, Elaine Shaffer, moved to Switzerland in the early 1950s and began her solo career in Europe as a concert flutist. In 1953, she made her debut in London's Royal Festival Hall. Her concert moved the music critic of the Daily Express to write: "She is one of the greatest musical performers now before the public."
Another reporter (Preston Benson, The Star, May 12, 1953), attributed her unusual sustained lung-power to the fact "she trains like an athlete and runs two or three miles a day to keep her breathing strength in trim."
Spending more and more time living in Switzerland she loved hiking the spectacular Alpine mountain trails.
In 1973, at age 47, she tragically died of lung cancer.
In the United States, radon is responsible for an estimated 20,000 lung cancer deaths a year, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
An April 9 article by Johns Hopkins' Bloomberg School of Public Health said that "levels of radon in Pennsylvania homes — where 42 percent of readings surpass what the U.S. government considers safe — have been on the rise since 2004, around the time when the fracking industry began drilling gas wells in the state."
Kentucky is familiar with lung-related deaths caused by smoking and coal dust. Radon represents another attack on public health.
A second personal experience has to do with an area targeted for drilling, Red Lick Valley, that runs about 18 miles between Big Hill and Irvine.
To fully appreciate the beauty of this place, it must be seen and experienced. This can be accomplished with a driving tour beginning on Ky. 594 at the junction with U.S. 421 in Madison County. Continuing east on 594 it becomes Ky. 499 near Irvine.
At this time of the year, Red Lick Valley bursts with a spring symphony of color from blooming sarvis, redbuds and dogwoods.
In 1991, my wife and I moved there to a farm in Estill County from a pleasant, tree-lined community in New Jersey. We lived on the farm for 18 wondrous years.
Now, when I think of the area threatened with assaults by heavy trucks and even heavier equipment and by a drilling process that injects harsh chemicals into the bosom of Mother Earth, fracturing ancient rock and releasing toxic radon into sweet country air, I want to weep.