Shocking Documents Reveal Fracking Health Complaints Swept Under the Rug in Pennsylvania
[Editor’s update: Food & Water Watch has submitted a Right-to-Know request to the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s office. Last July, the Attorney General told residents who called with concerns about how their complaints with the Department of Health were handled that the office would launch a formal investigation. But since then, no evidence of any substantive investigation has surfaced. Food & Water Watch issued this Right-to-Know request to see what, if anything, has been done by the Attorney General’s office to carry out their promise of an investigation.]
Heavily-fracked Pennsylvania is a battle ground in the fight to protect affected families from the harms of the toxic drilling method. Last week after months of resisting our efforts, the state finally delivered more than 100 pages of documents to Food & Water Watch that were requested through a public Right-to-Know request. And what we received was shocking. The documents clearly demonstrate an ongoing pattern of alarming negligence and incompetence by the Pennsylvania Department of Health (DOH) in responding to scores of fracking-related health complaints from state residents.
This first came to light in 2014, when a StateImpact Pennsylvania report revealing that DOH health workers were told not to respond to fracking-related health complaints. According to two former DOH employees, the department instituted policies to prevent field staff from addressing complaints from residents regarding natural gas drilling and fracking related health impacts. Employees were given specific instructions to refrain from engaging with residents who called with health complaints containing specific “buzzwords,” according to these retired workers. One of the two stated, “We were absolutely not allowed to talk to them.” The other indicated their department “wasn’t told to be silent on any other topic that I can think of.”
Following up, in July 2014, Food & Water Watch filed a Right-to-Know Law request with Pennsylvania’s DOH to seek out records of complaints received by the agency and their response records. But DOH clearly did not want to turn over the documents, and it wasn’t until the Office of Open Records threatened an injunction, that the DOH finally released these records to Food & Water Watch,.
Between March 30, 2011 and April 6, 2015, the DOH logged 87 complaint records filed by concerned residents, health professionals, state legislators and agencies on behalf of Pennsylvania residents. Respiratory issues, asthma, and throat and nose irritation were the most common health problems reported by residents, followed by noxious odors, skin problems, abdominal issues and noise pollution. Residents also complained of cancer, and extreme hair loss. Doctors even phoned in from “seeing unusual numbers of skin lesions/rashes in residents.”
The types of health concerns reported are consistent with the scientific studies of the potential health effects of fracking. Chemicals used in the fracking process impact the skin, eyes, respiratory, immune, endocrine and cardiovascular systems and can cause cancer.
We fought for almost a year and with multiple administrations for these documents. Now we know why. DOH's gross irresponsibility in its failure to respond to the to serious health concerns of the people it is charged to protect must be documented and challenged. We will continue to use legal tools and grassroots outreach to uncover the evidence and to demand accountability.
Gov. Wolf must break the cycle of abuse by the oil and gas industry by instituting an immediate halt on any new fracking in the state.
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theDOCK aims to innovate the Israeli maritime sector. Pexels<p>The UN hopes that new investments in ocean science and technology will help turn the tide for the oceans. As such, this year kicked off the <a href="https://www.oceandecade.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">United Nations Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development (2021-2030)</a> to galvanize massive support for the blue economy.</p><p>According to the World Bank, the blue economy is the "sustainable use of ocean resources for economic growth, improved livelihoods, and jobs while preserving the health of ocean ecosystem," <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0160412019338255#b0245" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Science Direct</a> reported. It represents this new sector for investments and innovations that work in tandem with the oceans rather than in exploitation of them.</p><p>As recently as Aug. 2020, <a href="https://www.reutersevents.com/sustainability/esg-investors-slow-make-waves-25tn-ocean-economy" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Reuters</a> noted that ESG Investors, those looking to invest in opportunities that have a positive impact in environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues, have been interested in "blue finance" but slow to invest.</p><p>"It is a hugely under-invested economic opportunity that is crucial to the way we have to address living on one planet," Simon Dent, director of blue investments at Mirova Natural Capital, told Reuters.</p><p>Even with slow investment, the blue economy is still expected to expand at twice the rate of the mainstream economy by 2030, Reuters reported. It already contributes $2.5tn a year in economic output, the report noted.</p><p>Current, upward <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/-innovation-blue-economy-2646147405.html" target="_self">shifts in blue economy investments are being driven by innovation</a>, a trend the UN hopes will continue globally for the benefit of all oceans and people.</p><p>In Israel, this push has successfully translated into investment in and innovation of global ports, shipping, logistics and offshore sectors. The "Startup Nation," as Israel is often called, has seen its maritime tech ecosystem grow "significantly" in recent years and expects that growth to "accelerate dramatically," <a href="https://itrade.gov.il/belgium-english/how-israel-is-becoming-a-port-of-call-for-maritime-innovation/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">iTrade</a> reported.</p><p>Driving this wave of momentum has been rising Israeli venture capital hub <a href="https://www.thedockinnovation.com/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">theDOCK</a>. Founded by Israeli Navy veterans in 2017, theDOCK works with early-stage companies in the maritime space to bring their solutions to market. The hub's pioneering efforts ignited Israel's maritime technology sector, and now, with their new fund, theDOCK is motivating these high-tech solutions to also address ESG criteria.</p><p>"While ESG has always been on theDOCK's agenda, this theme has become even more of a priority," Nir Gartzman, theDOCK's managing partner, told EcoWatch. "80 percent of the startups in our portfolio (for theDOCK's Navigator II fund) will have a primary or secondary contribution to environmental, social and governance (ESG) criteria."</p><p>In a company presentation, theDOCK called contribution to the ESG agenda a "hot discussion topic" for traditional players in the space and their boards, many of whom are looking to adopt new technologies with a positive impact on the planet. The focus is on reducing carbon emissions and protecting the environment, the presentation outlines. As such, theDOCK also explicitly screens candidate investments by ESG criteria as well.</p><p>Within the maritime space, environmental innovations could include measures like increased fuel and energy efficiency, better monitoring of potential pollution sources, improved waste and air emissions management and processing of marine debris/trash into reusable materials, theDOCK's presentation noted.</p>
theDOCK team includes (left to right) Michal Hendel-Sufa, Head of Alliances, Noa Schuman, CMO, Nir Gartzman, Co-Founder & Managing Partner, and Hannan Carmeli, Co-Founder & Managing Partner. Dudu Koren<p>theDOCK's own portfolio includes companies like Orca AI, which uses an intelligent collision avoidance system to reduce the probability of oil or fuel spills, AiDock, which eliminates the use of paper by automating the customs clearance process, and DockTech, which uses depth "crowdsourcing" data to map riverbeds in real-time and optimize cargo loading, thereby reducing trips and fuel usage while also avoiding groundings.</p><p>"Oceans are a big opportunity primarily because they are just that – big!" theDOCK's Chief Marketing Officer Noa Schuman summarized. "As such, the magnitude of their criticality to the global ecosystem, the magnitude of pollution risk and the steps needed to overcome those challenges – are all huge."</p><p>There is hope that this wave of interest and investment in environmentally-positive maritime technologies will accelerate the blue economy and ESG investing even further, in Israel and beyond.</p>
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