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Pennsylvania ignoring fracking health reports

Amy Mall

Posted June 20, 2014

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Another deeply troubling story about the failure of our government leaders to protect Americans from the consequences of fracking is coming out of Pennsylvania. A blistering investigation from StateImpact Pennsylvania reports that two retired employees of the Pennsylvania Department of Health were instructed by their bosses to systematically ignore residents who reported health concerns they thought were related to natural gas development. The retirees claim they were ordered not to take or return calls on fracking-related health reports and were barred from attending community meetings on the topic without permission.

Fracking-related pollution has been linked to a wide range of health concerns around the country—including respiratory and neurological problems, birth defects, and cancer. People in Pennsylvania and in fracking communities all around the country have reported a wide range of health issues when fracking comes to town – rashes, respiratory problems, nose bleeds, headaches. (The “List of the Harmed” maintained by the Pennsylvania Alliance for Clean Water and Air documents more than 6,000 reports from around the country.)

The fact that the state health department—the state officials tasked with safeguarding public health—not only failed to investigate reports, but were directed to ignore them, is inexcusable.

This is one of the most troubling—but unfortunately, not surprising—examples of how our leaders at the state and federal levels have been failing to put the health of Americans over profits for powerful oil and gas interests. And if it was happening here unreported for so long, how are we to know it’s not happening in other states?

Our federal leaders have let the American people down as well. EPA dropped an investigation into drinking water contamination in Dimock, PA—as well as in Texas and Wyoming—without sufficient explanation, despite evidence of lingering fracking-related contamination and health concerns.

Avoiding investigation of health complaints provides enough cover for frackers to continue claiming there’s “no proof” of health impacts. This is backwards. It’s the responsibility of our public officials to act in the public interest—not to benefit the oil and gas industry’s bottom line.

Indeed, the National Association of County and City Health Officials has called loud and clear for increased involvement from public health professionals and health departments to address the environmental and public health threats from fracking. Unfortunately, it seems politics has been getting in the way. And even the mechanism that is supposed to help officials address these problems—the federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, which is part of the Center for Disease Control—has been delayed in publishing the results of its own investigations into drinking water contamination and air pollution.

State officials and legislators nationwide need to ensure that their health agencies and experts are free from industry influence and not protecting polluters instead of helping victims in dire need of assistance.

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Gerald QuindryJun 21 2014 03:42 PM

Your link to the "blistering investigation" doesn't work, so, once again, you make fear mongering claims that can not be tracked back to the original source.

just sayinJun 21 2014 07:35 PM

Um, I googled state impact Mr.Quindry

Amy MallJun 21 2014 08:01 PM

Dear Mr. Quindry: Thank you very much for bringing this to my attention. I have revised the links and they should all work now. My apologies.

James WellsJun 22 2014 04:35 PM

So is someone continuing with the followup? Like current workers with the same instructions? Chasing the chain of command to see where this came from?
Really nice in this article would be direction to a place where developments on this will be tracked. How can this not be criminal?

JakeJun 22 2014 08:46 PM

So two people make an unverified claim, and you run with it as if it is the the cold hard truth. This seems to be a pattern of yours.

Amy MallJun 23 2014 11:44 AM

Dear Mr. Wells: I don't have any additional information at this time but will post anything additional as we learn more.

JakeJun 23 2014 01:16 PM


One of your more recent and unsubstantiated blogs was about worker safety and a supposed tendency for minorities to be treated worse than others.

Have you dug up any further information on that one? Worker safety is critically important, so am I incorrect to assume you have done nothing beyond posting that inflammatory blog? Or are you looking into that one just as hard as you are trying to verify the claims made in this blog?

Michael BerndtsonJun 23 2014 08:55 PM

As always, great job, Amy.

Stateimpact Pennsylvania does a nice job covering shale gas energy, econ and environment, warts and all. It's an excellent source and part of NPR. NPR gets scrutinized more than any other news source on the planet. Well except those in Egypt and maybe our deep south. Copied from the Stateimpact Article:

"Act 13, the 2012 overhaul of the state’s oil and gas law, created an impact fee, which has generated more than $630 million over the last three years. The money goes back to local governments and to various state agencies involved in regulating drilling, including the Department of Environmental Protection.

“Not one penny goes to the Department of Health,” Goldstein said."

Kind of not cool. Apparently, Goldstein is professor emeritus of U. Pittsburgh, graduate school of Public Health. He's probably not going to make stuff up. Pitt, if I'm not mistaken is part of a shale gas roundtable. I believe Heinz Endowment helps out with grants. Issues like this, when raised, are done very cautiously. I'm going with Goldstein. Stateimpact. And Amy.

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