D’OH! …as Homer Simpson would say

Seriously though.

The utter shame of it all. The Pennsylvania DOH (Department of Health) has shunned those suffering with health issues in the shale gas patch in the past, so their latest withdrawal comes as no surprise.
Looks good on paper
But the PITT withdrawal was a big surprise!


PITT has been great –their Graduate School of Public Health in particular– while working with the Pennsylvania League of Women Voters over the past 10 years to organize an annual SHALE GAS AND PUBLIC HEALTH event, either ‘live and in-person’ at the University Club in the Oakland section of Pittsburgh, or more recently, via Zoom. In fact, registration for this year’s event is ongoing, having already been open for two weeks.

The PA League of Women Voters and the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health will hold their 10th Annual Shale Gas and Public Health Conference November 15-16.
This online Conference will feature a synthesis of 10 years of research on shale gas development and its impacts on public health as well as presentations on the latest study results by researchers. Shale gas development and environmental justice concerns and presentations on the relationships between research findings and government policy for regulating oil and gas development. Community voices will be a featured part of the Conference. Click Here to register for this free Conference.  Questions should be directed to 1-800-617-4253.


Contact: Virginia Alvino Young, virginia@sequalconsulting.com, 714-267-1623

Pitt School Of Public Health, PA Dept Of Health Abruptly Pull Out Of Public Meeting They Helped Convene  

At The Last Minute, The Institutions Backed Out Of A Public Meeting About Their Own Studies On The Link Between Natural Gas Development And Childhood Cancer Rates. The Meeting Will Still Take Place, And The Health Studies Are Still Ongoing.

Washington, PA – Three years ago, a group of parents whose children have been affected by rare cancers, including Ewing sarcoma, asked the PA Department of Health to investigate childhood cancers being diagnosed at disproportionately high rates in Southwestern Pennsylvania, where shale gas drilling, fracking, and infrastructure buildout have occurred.

In 2019, Pennsylvania Governor Wolf ’s administration allocated $3 million on a pair of studies to explore the potential health effects of the natural gas industry, taking action after months of impassioned pleas by the families of childhood cancer patients who live in the most heavily drilled region of the state. Those studies, called the PA Health and Environment Studies, have been underway for two years.

Though study results are not yet available, the Center for Coalfield Justice, Environmental Health Project, Physicians for Social Responsibility Pennsylvania, and FracTracker Alliance collaborated for months with representatives from the PA Department of Health and researchers from the University of Pittsburgh School of Public Health to organize a public meeting on October 5 in Canonsburg. Researchers were set to explain the study process to the public and take questions from community members. This meeting was to be the first time since the launch of the studies that parents and community members would have the opportunity to learn from the institutions conducting the studies. 

Then suddenly this week, both the University of Pittsburgh and the Department of Health backed out of attending the public meeting. 

“It is reasonable for community residents and pediatricians like me to be concerned that fracking may be to blame for the spike in rare childhood cancers and other health impacts in Southwestern Pennsylvania,” said Dr. Ned Ketyer, former member of the External Advisory Board for the studies, and president of Physicians for Social Responsibility Pennsylvania. “Dozens of scientific and medical studies support those concerns. Community members are demanding answers. Unfortunately, the decision by the PA DOH and University of Pittsburgh to withdraw their commitment and not attend the public meeting on October 5 effectively silences those important voices and keeps the community in the dark.”

Today, four members of the studies’ External Advisory Board resigned their positions, citing resistance to accountability and transparency to community members. As described in the invitation from The University of Pittsburgh to join the advisory board, these health and community leaders were asked to participate because of their “role as a trusted member of the potentially impacted community represented within [the] study region” and to “ensure necessary scientific integrity, transparency, and credibility for the studies[.]” 

“Parents deserve to hear from these institutions,” said Heaven Sensky, former  External Advisory Board Co-Chair and Organizing Director at the Center for Coalfield Justice. “More than 100 community members are already planning to attend the meeting. Participating in this public forum was the bare minimum these agencies and research institutions could do to provide information to grieving parents and concerned community members. But now, they won’t even do that. Yet again, powerful institutions show they are more interested in pleasing their industry donors and political backers than ensuring our children grow up free from preventable disease, and as a result it falls upon our community organizations to fill the gap and answer people’s questions.” 

Lois Bower-Bjornson, a resident of Washington County, said, “As a mother living surrounded by fracking with children who have health impacts, this issue is scary and results in an emotional response. The purpose of this meeting was to ensure community members understand the process of the study. Even though trusted institutions are failing to show up for us, I encourage you to still join and hear from your neighbors and community groups to submit your questions. This meeting is about protecting the health of my children and community.” 

Even though the University of Pittsburgh and the Department of Health are no longer attending, the meeting will still take place on October 5 at 5:30 PM at the Yoney Pavilion at Canonsburg Town Park. The health studies are ongoing. The meeting will give attendees the opportunity to learn more about the PA Health and Environment Study and other environmental studies that have been conducted in the community. Families can have a discussion about what is known from previous research and how they can use that information to protect their children’s health. Any questions that cannot be answered by participating organizations will be directed to the University of Pittsburgh research team and the PA Department of Health. 



From whence does the PA DOH shame come, you may ask…

2014 News Story
Pa. confirms drilling “buzzword” list; says it’s meant to guide, not silence employees

July 2, 2014 | StateImpact Pennsylvania

Buzzwords include “hair falling out,” “skin rash”
On February 24, 2012, the Bureau of Health Planning and Assessment sent an email to eight bureau directors and the deputy secretary. “Please share the following email with all staff as a reminder,” it said. The email instructed employees to call the Bureau of Epidemiology with complaints about “possible cancer clusters, health concerns related to natural gas drilling, and other types of environmental hazards” from citizens, legislators, healthcare professionals, or public employees. It also includes a list of 19 words and phrases that may be used in these complaints including “hair falling out,” “skin rash,” superfund site, drilling, fracking and Marcellus Shale. You can read the email with the list by clicking here.
Tammi Stuck, a retired community health nurse in Fayette County, told StateImpact Pennsylvania she remembered that her supervisor – after distributing what Stuck called the list of “buzzwords” – told employees not to return calls on these topics. Marshall Deasy, a retired program specialist with the Bureau of Epidemiology, said some nurses he knew also told him they were not allowed to return calls about drilling-related health complaints. Full story

Subject: Reminder on fielding calls
Barium, Bromine, Hair falling out, Skin rash, Environmental contaminates, Superfund site, Natural gas, Drilling, Garbage dump, Mining, Fracking, Frack chemicals, Wastewater, Well (Water) contamination, Marcellus shale, Cancer cluster, Shale, Waste, Dump
Pa. Governor Tom Corbett’s nickname quickly became “Tom Corporate”
One of the original parts of the infamous Act 13

Another 2014 News Story
Former state health employees say they were silenced on drilling

June 19, 2014 – StateImpact Pennsylvania

Two retirees from the Pennsylvania Department of Health say its employees were silenced on the issue of Marcellus Shale drilling. One veteran employee says she was instructed not to return phone calls from residents who expressed health concerns about natural gas development. “We were absolutely not allowed to talk to them,” said Tammi Stuck, who worked as a community health nurse in Fayette County for nearly 36 years. Another retired employee, Marshall P. Deasy III, confirmed that. Sometimes, Stuck said, people would call again, angry they had not heard back from anyone from the department.
Dr. Bernard Goldstein, professor emeritus with the University of Pittsburgh’s Graduate School of Public Health, has criticized Gov. Tom Corbett’s administration for not giving the Department of Health a bigger role in overseeing the growing shale gas industry. A spokesman for Gov. Corbett declined to comment for this story. “Pennsylvania was poised to be the model state when it came to fracking. That’s how I saw it. Unfortunately, that’s not what happened,” said Corbett’s former health secretary, Eli Avila. Full story

They need to walk the talk!
“The failure to use reasonable care to avoid consequences that threaten or harm the safety of the public and that are the foreseeable outcome of acting in a particular manner.”
PDF: How Policy Decisions Failed to Protect Public Health and What We Can Do to Correct It
PDF: Media Advisory – October 5 Community Meeting Scheduled to Update Residents on PA Health & Environment Studies and to Discuss Health Impacts of Shale Gas Development


VIDEO: PA Health & Environment Studies Meeting


Governor Tom Wolf

PA Department of Health Executive Leadership

Newspaper stories:

June 19, 2014 – Former state health employees say they were silenced on drilling

July 2, 2014 – Pa. confirms drilling “buzzword” list; says it’s meant to guide, not silence employees

June 25, 2020 – Pa. grand jury report on fracking: DEP failed to protect public health

September 30, 2022 – 32 House races to watch on energy and environment

February 1, 2022 – Study finds elderly near fracking sites at higher risk of dying prematurely 

March 31, 2022 – One year after our “Fractured” investigation on fracking: Lots of talk, no action

April 14, 2022 – Public health in Pennsylvania ignored during fracking rush: Report

July 1, 2022 – Krajewski, Frankel introduced fracking health bill

August 17, 2022 – Study: Pennsylvania Children Who Live Near Fracking Wells Have Higher Leukemia Risk

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