SPIKE IN CHILDHOOD CANCERS WARRANTS AN INVESTIGATION
A bombshell report by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette published on May 14th identified 46 cases of rare cancers diagnosed in children since 2008 in four counties at the epicenter of the shale gas boom. Twenty-seven cases of Ewing Sarcoma, a very rare bone cancer that usually affects on 200 - 250 people a year in the United States, are among them. Thirteen of the children diagnosed with rare cancers have died. (Subsequent reporting puts the current number of cases at 67.)
The Better Path Coaliton collaborated with Food & Water Watch, Physicians for Social Responsibility - Pennsylvania, the Southwestern PA Environmental Health Project, the Delaware Riverkeeper Network, Frack Action, and Berks Gas Truth on a sign-on letter calling for a statewide investigation to determine the scope of the public health crisis in all age groups in every county where shale gas activities have occurred. The letter also calls for a halt to permitting of new wells until the cause of the cancers can be demonstrated to be something other than shale gas activity. It was delivered electronically to Governor Wolf on June 17th and in person on June 19th.
Accompanying us in the delivery were Dr. Sandra Steingraber of Concerned Health Professionals of New York and Laura Dagley and Tammy Murhpy of Physicians for Social Responsibility, co-authors of the new sixth edition of the Compendium of Scientific, Medical, and Media Findings Demonstrating Risks and Harms of Fracking (Unconventional Gas and Oil Extraction), who presented a copy to the Governor. Dr. Ned Ketyer, a pediatrician and advisor to the Southwestern PA Environmental Health Project, who attended a public meeting his organization hosted on June 18th in the Canon-McMillan school district, one of the areas especially hard hit by the cancers, was also among the group that delivered the letter.
The delivery followed a Brown Bag Briefing on New Research on Health and Climate Impacts of Shale Gas Development organized by the Better Path Coalition to inform elected officials, agency chiefs, and others about the Compendium, the Canon-McMillan public meeting, a report commissioned by the Delaware Riverkeeper Network called Categorical Review of Health Reports on Fracking in Pennsylvania wrtten by the FracTracker Alliance, a new report Burning the Gas ‘Bridge Fuel’ Myth: Why Gas Is Not Clean, Cheap, or Necessary by Oil Change International, and a review of studies conducted by Dr. Brian Schwartz of Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health focused on data from Pennsylvana on a variety of health impacts.
Although they were invited, neither Governor Wolf nor Department of Health Secretary Rachel Levine attended, nor did they send staff members.
Within a couple of hours of the delivery, we received a letter from Governor Wolf. It says, "While there is significant oil and gas activity in the southwestern counties of our state, as well as a long legacy of development of other natural resources, there is currently no known environmental cause of Ewing’s sarcoma. The Department of Health was initially asked to undertake an analysis of this area as a potential cancer cluster based on radiation concerns. We will continue to monitor and study cancer incidents in this area, especially as more data becomes available." Read the full letter here.
The organizations that collaborated on the original letter to Wolf issued this statement in response.
The Southwest Pennsylvania Environmental Health Project sent a letter to DOH Secretary Rachel Levine on August 1, 2019 that critiqued the study her agency had done in conjunction with Colorado's health regulators. Governor Wolf cited the study and claimed the data on health impacts related to fracking are inconclusive, as a result. He used this as justification to reject our call for an investigation.
In response to the announcement that the Department of Health would hold a long overdue public meeting on October 7, 2019 at the Canon-McMillan High School in Washington County, the authors of the letter to Governor Wolf drafted a second letter, this time calling on him to attend the meeting.
We received no response and neither he nor Secretary Levine attended.
At the meeting, Representative Tim O'Neal who was there with Representative Jason Ortitay told the audience that fracking could be the cause of the cancers and should be investigated along with other possible causes.
On October 17, the Better Path Coalition delivered a letter signed by more than 40 organizations and 200 individuals to the O'Neal and Ortitay laying out next step and calling on them to halt bad bills that would subsidize the industry and make matters worse. The Coalition delivered a second letter to all PA legislators calling on them to support O'Neal and Ortitay in following through with our recommended next steps and to halt the bad bills.
The Better Path Coalition teamed up with Physicians for Social Responsibility and the Center for Coalfield Justice to organize a legislative briefing hosted by Senator Katie Muth and Representative Sara Innamorato called Voices of the Cancer Crisis in SWPA. The briefing on 11/18 was followed by a press event outside of Wolf's office. One by one, relatives of young people who have died of rare cancers or who are currently battling them yelled their statements into Wolf's empty reception hall. Their powerful statements forced Wolf out of his office to hear from them directly. On 11/22, he announced that he was ordering studies on the spike in rare cancers and other fracking-related health impacts.