A packed room at the University of Pittsburgh's University Club heard a succession of speakers weigh in on impacts to public health from fracking activity in the Marcellus Shale region ranging from compromised air quality to poor outcomes in newborns.
|Dr. Bruce Pitt, department chair, University |
of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health
The Southwestern Pennsylvania Environmental Health Project's Dr. Jill Kriesky reiterated the need for a registry on the health impacts of fracking in PA. "We need a [fracking] health registry since researchers have determined that there are public health impacts from this activity," said Kriesky. "The goal is for Pennsylvania to have a robust health registry other states would want to replicate so we have this data across the country."
Dr. Brian Schwartz of Johns Hopkins University is the lead on the much-discussed Geisinger study of health impacts in the fracking regions of northeastern Pennsylvania (NEPA). The Geisinger Health System, which has a large presence in NEPA, has an abundance of well-tracked data, making it a good candidate for study. "By using Geisinger data, we're studying the data of people in [fracking] impacted counties," noted Schwartz, adding that the National Institutes of Health is funding three studies to date that are looking at environmental issues and associated health outcomes. One study's key takeaway: An association between fracking and pre-term birth that is 40 percent higher, "conservatively," in fracking regions. Schwartz's continuing research includes studying asthma exacerbation in drilling regions (the disease's latency is short, making it an ideal vehicle to assess fracking impacts) as well as the study of certain cancers including leukemia and tumors.
|Dr. Bernard Goldstein, emeritus dean and |
professor, Pitt Graduate School of Public Health
It was clear after a full day of speakers and breakout sessions that the conversation in PA on shale gas drilling is fluid. However, much more has been learned, especially about the harmful air pollution related to fracking that is leading to negative health outcomes for Pennsylvanians, including our most vulnerable populations.
Consequently, we should continue to push for the strongest possible rules to address air pollution from natural gas drilling including methane emissions from both new and existing sources. Absent strong protections and strict enforcement, we will not be able to ensure good public health and a safe environment.
Elaine Labalme is strategic campaigns director for PennFuture and is based in Pittsburgh. She tweets @NewGirlInTown.