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.
YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE
England's Somerset county can now boast its first beaver dam in more than 400 years.
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Alex McInturff, Christine Wilkinson and Wenjing Xu
What is the most common form of human infrastructure in the world? It may well be the fence. Recent estimates suggest that the total length of all fencing around the globe is 10 times greater than the total length of roads. If our planet's fences were stretched end to end, they would likely bridge the distance from Earth to the Sun multiple times.
Early advertisement for barbed wire fencing, 1880-1889. The advent of barbed wire dramatically changed ranching and land use in the American West by ending the open range system. Kansas Historical Society / CC BY-ND
The authors assembled a conservative data set of potential fence lines across the U.S. West. They calculated the nearest distance to any given fence to be less than 31 miles (50 kilometers), with a mean of about 2 miles (3.1 kilometers). McInturff et al,. 2020 / CC BY-ND
- 'This Is Not Like a Fence in a Backyard' — Trump's Border Wall vs ... ›
- New Border Wall Construction Threatens 8 Species With Extinction ... ›
Climate change is making ancient Hopi farming nearly impossible, threatening not just the Tribe's staple food source, but a pillar of its culture and religion, the Arizona Republic reports.
- These Are the Challenges Facing India's Most Sacred River ... ›
- Oil Spill Causes 'Major Disaster' for Ganges River Dolphins ... ›
By Kenny Stancil
An expert panel of top international and environmental lawyers have begun working this month on a legal definition of "ecocide" with the goal of making mass ecological damage an enforceable international crime on par with war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide.
- Are the Amazon Fires a Crime Against Humanity? - EcoWatch ›
- 'Her Work Will Live On': Climate Movement Mourns Loss of Ecocide ... ›