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PA Doctors, Health Advocates and Residents Urge NY Health Commissioner Shah to Consider PA Fracking Health Impacts in NY Review

March 25, 2013

Dr. Nirav Shah

New York State Commissioner of Health

New York State Department of Health

Corning Tower, Empire State Plaza

Albany, NY 12237

Dear Dr. Shah:

We the undersigned doctors, public health advocates, citizen leaders and residents of Pennsylvania, share your belief that health care is an ecosystem—which was to be the topic of your now-cancelled public lecture today. Bereft of any concern comparable to that shown by the Governor of New York and by you, we are in crisis, subject to a wholesale onslaught by the unconventional gas drilling industry. Outside the public gaze, we endure health impacts from volatile organic chemicals, blowouts, fires, contaminated water, hazardous air pollutants, diesel exhaust and more. We would like to make sure our voices are heard today while you are visiting our state. To begin, we have three pleas:

First, as the New York Health Commissioner, you are a vital part of the ecosystem of health care for the entire Marcellus Shale region. So we, the people of Pennsylvania, see it as urgent that you continue to hold the line and maintain your state’s moratorium on shale gas development. The full life-cycle impacts from shale gas development are not proven safe for animal and human health. The cases of sickness are widespread across Pennsylvania shale country. Many have been hidden by means of non-disclosure clauses, but still, we have compiled a “List of the Harmed,” over 900 individuals and families identified in the public record as harmed by shale gas drilling so far. We can identify the suffering and symptoms, but we cannot pinpoint the multiple migratory pathways for chemical exposure, so it is not possible to guarantee that any proposed regulations on shale gas extraction will keep people safe.

Second, in your ongoing study of the health effects of fracking, you need the case studies, the symptoms, and the data about migratory pathways for exposure, for Pennsylvania residents impacted by shale gas development. Our own state blindly allows drilling and fracking operations without health data. Please don’t make that same mistake in New York. We believe you need to study cases of sickness and contamination in Pennsylvania. Given that public records of shale gas development-related health complaints in Pennsylvania do not exist, we stand ready to help. Walter Tsou, MD, former President, American Public Health Association, former Philadelphia Commissioner of Health, and current President of the Philadelphia Chapter of Physicians for Social Responsibility, can arrange for you to visit and study Pennsylvania’s impacted families. In addition, the results of the Geisinger, UPenn, and EPA studies are essential to your investigation, and we ask that you wait for them.

Of course, behind every data point lies a human life. So, third, we appeal to you as a physician. Here in Pennsylvania, we need your help. Governor Corbett forced the resignation of Secretary of Health Eli Avila, who had recommended creating a state registry for health complaints related to shale gas development. Health impacts are still not being tracked by our Department of Health. Thus, the New York Times (November 2011) documented the Haney and Voyles’ families’ suffering, for example, including a little boy who suffered intestinal pain for over a year. An open toxic fracking waste impoundment, situated just out of sight near their homes, had been impacting their health, destroying their families’ well-being, and killing 21 of their animals (including stillbirths). But our Department of Health claimed to be “not aware” of these impacts, turning a similarly blind eye to the burning eyes, sore throats and headaches suffered by the Hallowich family, the Headley family, and hundreds of others. Our Department of Environmental Protection now seeks even more exemptions for the industry it is supposed to regulate, despite reports of throat burns from chemical inhalation at flare sites; severe nosebleeds due to toxic emissions – ethylene glycol, for one — from dehydrators, and more.

Dr. Shah, our states are inextricably interconnected. Please help us by asking the Pennsylvania Secretary of Health to thoroughly document all shale gas development health complaints, whether related to drilling and fracking, flaring and flowback waste handling, compressor stations or gas processing facilities, gas storage facilities, pipeline incidents, LNG and cracker plant facilities, or re-injection well impacts. We need your holistic and humane view of health care as an ecosystem, to help us reach our own state’s Department of Health, which has done nothing to help our impacted people. Private citizens raised funds to provide clean water to 30 families in Butler County, Pennsylvania, all last year; that water drive continues to exhaust its coordinators. So, please also intercede on our behalf so that our Department of Health begins protecting us and supplying impacted people with water when needed.

Commissioner Shah, secrecy clouds the fracking debate like a toxic cloak. The industry keeps a substantial number of fracking chemicals proprietary, just as the tobacco industry has done, keeping public health researchers at a disadvantage.Little-known impacts increase here day by day. Well casing failure rates in PA have risen from 6.2% in 2010 to 8.9% in 2012, for example. Residents and health professionals have been shocked by the intensity of flaring; the constant leaching of toxic materials into soil and groundwater from plastic-lined flowback waste pits; and by the physicians’ gag order, which prevents doctors in Pennsylvania from releasing information about propriety fracking chemicals even for the purpose of protecting public health. Please help us to pull back this cloak.

Aside from the “shale gas roulette” of acute health impacts, the heavy methane and C02 emissions from the full life-cycle impacts of shale gas are now known by scientists to be even worse than coal for climate. Climate change is the number one health crisis faced by our world today. The methane leakage rates have been recorded to be as high as an astronomical 9%, even without including pipeline and compressor station leaks. In the twenty-year time frame, methane is 105 times more potent a greenhouse gas than C02, according to NASA. This makes fracking salt in the wounds of our burning climate. To protect health, protect climate.

This is no time for toxic secrets. It’s time to build the resilience of our communities’ health on the local, state, and planetary scale.

Please do everything you can to protect our intertwined ecosystems, and to protect public health.

Sincerely,

-Walter Tsou, MD, MPH
Chair Of The Board
Physicians for Social Responsibility Philadelphia
Former Health Commissioner of Philadelphia

-Carla Campbell, MD, MS
Pediatrician, public health physician, and board member
Physicians for Social Responsibility Philadelphia

-Julie Becker, PhD, MPH
Board member
Physicians for Social Responsibility Philadelphia

-Teresa Méndez-Quigley, MSW, LSW
Director, Environmental Health Programs
Physicians for Social Responsibility Philadelphia

-Vincent Pedre, MD
Pedre Integrative Health of NYC

-Alfonso Rodriguez, MD
President
Gas Drilling Awareness Coalition

-B. Arrindell
Director
Damascus Citizens for Sustainability

-Jason Bell
Co-Founder
Tour de Frack

-Sam Bernhardt
Pennsylvania Organizer
Food & Water Watch

-Iris Marie Bloom
Executive Director
Protecting Our Waters

-Marjorie Van Cleef
Chair
Committee to End Wars
Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom
Member of Protecting Our Waters Organizing Committee

-J.Stephen Cleghorn, PhD
Owner – Paradise Gardens and Farm
Reynoldsville, PA

-Tanyette Colon
Founder
Mothers United for Sustainable Technologies (M.U.S.T.)

-Jolie DeFeis
Co-Founder
Save Cummins Hill

-Jed Dodd
General Chairman
Pennsylvania Federation BMWED-Teamsters

-Julie Ann Edgar
Organizer, Lehigh Valley Gas Truth
Founder, Safe Water Society

-Karen Feridun
Founder
Berks Gas Truth

-Josh Fox
Director of GASLAND
Milanville PA and Brooklyn NY

-Jenny Lisak
Co-director
Pennsylvania Alliance for Clean Water and Air

-R. Martin
Coordinator
PA Forest Coalition

-Eric David Peters
Co-Founder
Growing Community Project of West Chester, PA

-Liz Rosenbaum
Keep Tap Water Safe

-Maya van Rossum
The Delaware Riverkeeper
Delaware Riverkeeper Network

-Rev. Leah D. Schade
Pastor, United in Christ Lutheran Church, Lewisburg, PA
Ph.D. Candidate, The Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia
Founder, Interfaith Sacred Earth Coalition

Vera Scroggins
Citizens for Clean Water
Susquehanna County, Pennsylvania

-Diane Sipe
Planning Committee
Marcellus Outreach Butler

-Melinda Hughes-West
President
Nature Abounds

-Sue Laidacker
Board member for Organizations United for the Environment (OUE)
Executive Committee member for Shale Justice
-Diane Siegmund
Licensed Psychologist
Clarks Summit, PA
Jay Sweeney
Chair
Green Party of Pennsylvania
11 Comments
  1. Tamara Clements permalink
    March 25, 2013 12:57 pm

    “HEALTHCARE AS AN ECOSYSTEM” WAS HIS TALK TITLE? HOPING HIS SCIENTIFIC MIND AND COMPASSIONATE HEART (THAT LED HIM TO MEDICINE AS A LIFE’S WORK), REVEAL THE ONLY DECISION THAT MAKES SENSE FOR THIS HUGE POPULATION OF WATER DRINKERS ~ NO FRACKING HERE, NOT ONE WELL, NONE. PERIOD.

  2. March 25, 2013 12:58 pm

    thanks, for all this and asking NY to help put pressure on PA to keep track of health impacts from gas drilling and we need help from NY to pressure PA to test it’s food, animals, soil from gas industry contamination and we need to keep our gas industry waste here in PA and not contaminate other States.

  3. stringrrl permalink
    March 25, 2013 11:19 pm

    This is a great letter, and I totally agree and support this effort. However, we need more than just two doctors to sign this letter. Why are there not 100 doctors here? Or 1000, or 10,000?

    • Iris Marie Bloom permalink
      March 28, 2013 2:39 pm

      Great point! We had an extremely short circulation time for this letter — most people saw it with less than a day to think about it or to sign on their organization before it went to Dr. Shah. However, if more Pennsylvania physicians, health professionals, shalefield residents and advocates would like to sign on, you can send your sign-on to: protectingourwaters@gmail.com and we can re-submit this letter with the additions, cc’ing Governor Cuomo and Pennsylvania decisionmakers as well as Dr. Shah. Thanks for the comment.

  4. Jack permalink
    March 26, 2013 10:38 am

    Thank you for standing up for our society.

  5. March 26, 2013 11:06 pm

    Reblogged this on Frack_Free_Farming and commented:
    Those of you who are not familiar with POW and the work that they do, take time to read their letter and hopefully join with us in the battle for transparency in the health care industry that has stiffled the facts due to the strong Frack/silencing here in PA.

  6. Joanne Corey permalink
    March 27, 2013 12:06 pm

    Thanks to our PA neighbors for bringing their expertise and experiences to NYS health commissioner Dr. Shah. I live in a NY town bordering PA and I am saddened by the suffering you have endured and appreciate your efforts to keep it from migrating over the border to New York.

    • Iris Marie Bloom permalink
      April 2, 2013 12:22 pm

      This link only goes to the comment area. Thanks for putting this in as a comment. So many more people would see this important story if it were a blog post. We will work on that. The Headley family has been through too much.

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  1. Pa. Doctors, Health Advocates and Sickened Residents Urge NY Health Commish. Shah to Consider PA Fracking Health Impacts in NY Review | Protecting Our Waters | league site

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