Public briefed on fracking health studies, despite no-show from Pitt, DOH
Reid Frazier | StateImpact Pennsylvania | October 6, 2022 – The studies were prompted after dozens of children and young adults were diagnosed with Ewing sarcoma and other forms of cancer in a four-county area outside Pittsburgh, where energy companies have drilled more than 4,000 wells since 2008, according to state records. The cases were first reported by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
“It could have been a lot better if the Department of Health and Pitt kept true to their word and (been) here. There was a lot of planning that was involved in this,” Janice Blanock said. “For them to not show up, to decline from attending a week before this meeting, was pretty upsetting.”
Canonsburg residents seek answers on health impacts of fracking, shale gas
Mick Stinelli | Pittsburgh Post-Gazette | October 5, 2022 – Janice Blanock was asking once again if it was possible that the fracking and natural gas industry in her area played a part in her son’s death. She wanted to know why more than half a dozen young people in their region have been diagnosed with Ewing sarcoma, a rare childhood bone cancer, and other health issues since 2008. Her 19-year-old son, Luke Blanock, died from Ewing sarcoma in 2016. The newspaper later reported that there were at least 27 cases of the disease that occurred between 2008 and 2018 in Washington, Greene, Fayette and Westmoreland counties. Canon-McMillan in particular sits near one of the state’s largest cryogenic gas-processing plants, in Chartiers, in addition to gas wells and compressor stations.
Looking for answers: Residents await results of health studies
“Nobody should be surprised when children living near fracked gas wells, pipelines, compressor stations, gas processing facilities, and fracking waste landfills start getting sick,” said Dr. Ned Ketyer, president of Physicians for Social Responsibility Pennsylvania. “Dozens of studies already show serious harm to people living nearby, and children appear to bear the highest burden.” Mitch Barton is one of at least six teens and young adults in the Canon-McMillan School District who have been struck with the rare cancer, including his former baseball teammate, Luke Blanock, who succumbed to the disease in 2016.
Heaven Sensky, Organizing Director, The Center for Coalfield Justice, 724-229-3550 x2, email@example.com
Canonsburg, PA, October 5, 2022— A public meeting in Canonsburg, PA, today offered residents an opportunity to learn more about a set of research studies titled the “PA Health and Environment Studies” now being conducted by the University of Pittsburgh’s School of Public Health. The studies are exploring potential health impacts of the shale gas industry on residents of Southwestern Pennsylvania, including potential connections between this heavy industry and a spike in childhood cancers in the region. The PA Health and Environment studies are ongoing, and results were not shared at this meeting.
Persons who formerly participated as members of the studies’ External Advisory Board and who provided feedback to the study architects discussed the studies at the Canonsburg meeting and helped to prepare the community to understand the scope and limitations of the results.
“We held this meeting to bring as much transparency as possible to our communities,” said Heaven Sensky, former External Advisory Board co-chair and organizing director of the Center for Coalfield Justice. “When our government and academic institutions fail to be accountable to our communities, together as neighbors we can get answers and protect our health.”
“We’re encouraging residents to visit the studies’ website and ask questions of the research team, so that everyone can best understand the results once they are published,” said Erica Jackson, former External Advisory Board member and manager of community outreach and support for FracTracker Alliance. “These studies would not exist if it weren’t for the work of impacted families organizing in their communities, and we want to make sure those voices aren’t lost now that the research is underway.”
Today’s event was held outdoors at the Canonsburg town park in order to better protect residents from possible COVID-19 exposure. It was also livestreamed so attendees could view the presentations virtually. The event was planned and executed by the Center for Coalfield Justice, the Environmental Health Project, FracTracker Alliance, the Mountain Watershed Association, and Physicians for Social Responsibility Pennsylvania.
“Although this meeting is in Canonsburg, it is important to understand that the health impacts at the forefront of these studies are regionwide,” said Stacey Magda, community organizer for Mountain Watershed Association. “Having the opportunity to work with a coalition of organizations that support environmental and human equity issues is such a powerful resource to offer our communities. We are hopeful folks will gain the opportunity to understand these studies, express concerns and experiences, and work together to find a path forward to ensure the health and vitality of our entire region.”
Additionally, the Environmental Health Project and Physicians for Social Responsibility Pennsylvania presented information families can use to identify impacts and protect their health.
“There is no doubt that residents living in proximity to shale gas development face a host of potential health issues,” said Makenzie White, public health manager at the Environmental Health Project. “Studies show that shale gas operations raise the risk of respiratory illnesses like asthma, heart disease and heart attacks, birth defects and pre-term deliveries, mental health problems, and cancer. It’s essential that we give impacted residents the tools they need to make informed decisions about their family’s health.”
“Nobody should be surprised when children living near fracked gas wells, pipelines, compressor stations, gas processing facilities, and fracking waste landfills start getting sick,” said former External Advisory Board member and current president of Physicians for Social Responsibility Pennsylvania, Dr. Ned Ketyer. “Dozens of studies already show serious harm to people living nearby, and children appear to bear the highest burden.”
Representatives of the Pennsylvania Department of Health and the University of Pittsburgh School of Public Health had originally committed to being on hand to explain the study process and to take questions from community members. However, the agency and the school decided to pull out of the meeting. A separate statement on this matter from meeting organizers can be viewed here. The Department of Health has set up an online form where residents can ask questions and provide feedback.
In 2019, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf’s administration allocated $3 million to the studies, 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. The studies have been underway for two years.
“The constant drumbeat from industry to deny, deny can no longer be tolerated,” said Lois Bower-Bjornson, mother of four, who is also southwestern field organizer with Clean Air Council and the host of Frackland tours. “The game that the industry is playing comes at a cost for the children and families that live in the frack fields of Southwestern Pennsylvania. A recent study from Yale University found that children living near oil and gas have three times the risk of developing leukemia. I don’t see anyone talking about how bad industry is for our children and communities. We rely on public institutions to help protect us, and now those institutions can be added to the list of the complacent.”
The studies cover the entirety of the Southwestern Pennsylvania Region, including Allegheny County, Armstrong County, Beaver County, Butler County, Fayette County, Greene County, Washington County, and Westmoreland County.
Environmental Health Project
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