Fifty-five health care providers across Pennsylvania signed on to a letter to Gov. Tom Wolf and the state Department of Health requesting him and the DOH “to better protect Pennsylvanians from the health effects of shale gas development.”
Specifically, the signers asked for Wolf and the DOH to take a precautionary approach to fracking; to hold the shale gas industry accountable for emitting pollutants into the environment by introducing better regulations and enforcing penalties for violations; and to inform and educate the public about measures Pennsylvania residents can take to protect themselves and their families from harm linked to shale gas emissions and waste streams while studies are undertaken that clarify the relationship between fracking and public health.
The letter, signed by Pennsylvania doctors, nurses, social workers, along with a handful of health care providers from other states, and private citizens, says unhealthy levels of toxics – including hazardous air pollutants, volatile organic compounds, fine particulate matter and silica dust – are routinely released into the air at every stage of shale gas development, leading to smog and climate disasters “that affect the lives and livelihoods of millions.”
“More than two dozen studies have shown a correlation between shale gas development and a host of health issues, including respiratory problems, cardio-pulmonary issues, fatigue and nausea, poor birth outcomes, neurological issues such as memory impairment, and depression,” said Ruth McDermott Levy, director of Global & Public Health at Villanova University’s College of Nursing. “There may also be a link between the shale gas industry and the higher than normal incidence of childhood cancers, primarily Ewing sarcoma, being reported across Southwestern Pennsylvania.”
Wolf committed more than $3 million to studying both the high incidences of childhood cancer and the health effects of fracking generally in Southwestern Pennsylvania.
At least 27 cases of Ewing Sarcoma, a rare childhood bone cancer with only 250 diagnoses nationwide each year, have been documented in Washington, Greene, Fayette and Westmoreland counties, including six within the Canon-McMillan School District boundaries, over the past decade.
The studies will take about three years to be completed.
Meanwhile, the letter says, residents of the region will continue to suffer the effects from the shale industry.
Dr. Ned Ketyer, a Southwestern Pennsylvania pediatrician, signer of the letter and consultant for the SWPA Environmental Health Project, said, “The Pennsylvania Department of Health has so far failed in its duty to adequately study the public health effects of shale gas development and has underperformed in its duty to protect the public from such health effects through research, education, and information and through mobilizing the state’s medical community.”
The group emailed the letter to Wolf and Secretary Levine Aug. 20.