I signed on to the [following letter regarding the effects of fracking on childhood cancer][https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSdNOgAIfvgGrUeeJTgFVAefusvDFZSOHefT4p_nDIggjnL9kA/viewform?gxids=7628].
Wendy Braund, MD Physician General PA Department of Health 625 Forster Street, 8th Floor West Harrisburg, PA 17120
Dear Dr. Braund,
As you assume the role of Interim Acting Physician General, we, the undersigned frontline community members, concerned citizens, organizational leaders, and health professionals urge you to prioritize a plan to address the alarming number of young people being diagnosed with rare cancers in four counties in southwestern Pennsylvania. These excess cancers began appearing only after shale gas fracking arrived in these communities.
Two years have passed since the unusual number of cancer cases in children and young people was first identified in a local television news story that triggered an investigation by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that uncovered nearly 70 cases in Washington, Greene, Fayette, and Westmoreland Counties. In response to these findings, published in May 2019, we submitted a letter to Governor Wolf and then-Secretary of Health Rachel Levine calling for an investigation and a suspension of gas drilling permitting until studies could determine that shale gas activities were NOT the cause. We have also requested on numerous occasions that Governor Wolf and Dr. Levine tour the affected communities and meet with the families.
Our request for an investigation was initially rejected by Governor Wolf. He pointed to a literature review conducted by the Department of Health in collaboration with their counterparts in Colorado. Because the review found no conclusive evidence of any health impacts associated with shale gas development, Governor Wolf said that he and Dr. Levine would continue to monitor the academic literature. In an open letter to Dr. Levine, the Environmental Health Project critiqued the poorly constructed review.
In fact, the cumulative peer-reviewed literature now links fracking and its associated processes with several cancers, asthma, skin rashes, heart problems, impairments to infant health, and mental health effects. Concerned Health Professionals of New York and Physicians for Social Responsibility publish a Compendium each year that summarizes the hundreds of studies of health effects linked to fracking and provides an analysis of the alarming trends in the research findings. In the most recent edition, released last month, they concluded that their examination “uncovered no evidence that fracking can be practiced in a manner that does not threaten human health directly.” The 7th edition can be downloaded at concernedhealthny.org/compendium/, but we would also be happy to provide you with a hard copy.
In November 2019, families traveled to Harrisburg to tell their stories at a legislative briefing. They confronted Governor Wolf after the briefing and urged him to take action. Four days later, he announced that the state would do two studies, including one study that would investigate the link between fracking and the spike in rare cancers. More than a year later, on December 22, 2020, he announced that your former colleagues at Pitt had been chosen to conduct the studies.
We are aware that this research will not be concluded before the Governor’s term is over. What becomes of it then is anyone’s guess. In the meantime, families desperate for answers about what made their children sick, what took their lives in some cases–and families who are desperate to keep their healthy children healthy–have been given no information or guidance. To date, the only information we have is the reporting by the Post-Gazette that was limited to young people in four counties. We don’t have any information about childhood cancers occurring elsewhere in the shale fields or adult cancers in even those four counties. And the drilling permits continue to be issued, without any pause while the investigations are ongoing.
The state’s response to this public health crisis has been abysmal. We urge you to do better. We ask that, as a first step, you meet with the families.
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