Dept. Of Health Awards $2.5 Million Contract To University of Pittsburgh To Research Health Effects Of Hydraulic Fracturing In PA

On December 22, the Wolf Administration announced a $2.5 million contract is in place with the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health to conduct research on the potential health effects of hydraulic fracturing in Pennsylvania.

“We are pleased to announce that we have chosen a partner to assist us in researching the health effects of hydraulic fracturing in Pennsylvania,” Gov. Tom Wolf said. “My administration is committed to ensuring that Pennsylvania is a healthy, vibrant place for all who call it home. We look forward to the invaluable research that will be done by the University of Pittsburgh and the information it will provide for the Commonwealth.”

In March of 2020, the Department of Health published a four-county report on the number of Ewing’s Family of Tumors, cases of childhood cancer and total cancer cases in Fayette, Greene, Washington and Westmoreland counties.

“We have heard the concerns from families and community members impacted by cancer and other health issues in the southwestern part of the state, and we are dedicated to taking the proper steps to keep our residents healthy,” Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine said. “We are committed to a healthy Pennsylvania for all and efforts that prevent injury and disease in the state. This essential research project is a testament to that.”

Pitt Public Health will be conducting two observational epidemiological studies focusing on known or suspected health effects of hydraulic fracturing.

One study will be led by Dr. Evelyn Talbott, Dr.P.H., M.P.H., Professor of Epidemiology at Pitt Public Health and director of the Environmental Epidemiology section.

She has over 35 years of experience conducting cancer and other health effects studies in southwestern Pennsylvania and abroad.

Dr. Talbott will investigate the relationship between hydraulic fracturing and the development of childhood cancers in southwestern Pennsylvania.

“I grew up in Washington County, and one of my first epidemiology investigations at Pitt involved a health study of thyroid cancer among those living near a uranium mill tailings site,” Dr. Talbott said. “So this investigation holds both personal and professional significance to me. I am committed to community inclusion and openness as we go forward in our endeavor to learn the facts.”

The other study, led by the director of Pitt Public Health’s Center for Occupational Biostatistics and Epidemiology and Research Associate Professor of Biostatistics, Dr. Jeanine Buchanich, Ph.D., M.Ed., M.P.H., will aim to replicate earlier studies on acute conditions, such as asthma and birth outcomes, using data from southwestern Pennsylvania.

“As a lifelong resident of southwestern Pennsylvania with much of my research focusing on environmental health in the area, I am personally and professionally committed to a systematic investigation of the health effects of hydraulic fracturing,” said Dr. Buchanich.

The goal is for both studies to be completed within the next two years.

As part of the contract, Pitt Public Health will be producing public-facing summaries on a quarterly basis to keep the public updated about the research. They also will work to provide a study progress update at the end of the first year.

At the conclusion of the project, a public meeting will provide information on the final outcomes of the research.


The Better Path Coalition issued this statement on the announcement--

“Families don’t have two more years to wait for studies to be completed. They’ve already had to wait more than a year for today’s announcement. If the studies are completed on time, they’ll arrive on Wolf’s desk just as he’s preparing to leave office,” says Karen Feridun, Co-founder of  the Better Path Coalition. “If you’re trying to keep your child safe from exposures that could cause the cancers that have affected so many already, today’s announcement gives you nothing.”

According to today’s release, the study on acute impacts will use data from southwestern Pennsylvania. There are no plans to look at health impacts occurring in other parts of the state where shale gas development has been occurring for more than a decade or polluting infrastructure like pipelines, power plants, processing facilities have impacted communities.

The limited geographical scope of the study isn’t the only concern. The release says that the study will attempt to replicate the results of other studies on a range of conditions, including asthma and birth outcomes.

“Pennsylvania is the poster child for documented health harms from drilling and fracking operations — including harms to pregnant women, infants, and children — as is evidenced by a multitude of peer-reviewed papers on the very issues that will become the focus of this new pair of studies. Corroborating research is always clarifying but should never be used as an excuse for inaction. Fracking in Pennsylvania contaminates water, pollutes air, and hurts public health. More than ten years into the fracking boom, any remaining need for benefit of the doubt belongs to the exposed children, not to the shale gas industry harming them,”  says biologist Sandra Steingraber, Ph.D., co-founder Concerned Health Professionals New York and co-author of the just released Compendium of Scientific, Medical, and Media Findings Demonstrating the Risks and Harms of Fracking (Unconventional Gas and Oil Extraction), 7th edition.

“I can’t help but think of Secretary Levine’s response to COVID-19 when guidance was changing from day to day. She didn’t need to see peer-reviewed research that established a causal link between wearing a mask and avoiding infection. She did what public health professionals do. She took action based on the best information she had at the moment. Why are  fracking-related health impacts held to a different standard?,” questions Feridun.

Health Registry

The Department of Health maintains an Oil and Natural Gas Production Health Registry  where complaints of health impacts are received and investigated by the agency.

Since 2011, Health’s Division of Environmental Health Epidemiology received 171 health complaints, as of the end of September 2020.  Read more here.

The source of the complaints involved water, air, noise, truck traffic and other sources, in that order.  Read more here.

For more information on the Department of Health’s work to date, visit Health’s Oil and Natural Gas Production Health Registry webpage.  Read more here.


Don Hopey: University Of Pittsburgh To Lead Shale Gas Health Study Looking At Possible Ties To Childhood Cancers

Editorial: State Funds Long Overdue Gas Drilling Health Study

Reid Frazier: Washington County Parents Want PA To Look Deeper At Whether Fracking Could Be Related To Cancer Cases

Southwestern PA Residents Renew Calls For Research On Possible Health Impact Of Fracking

Reid Frazier: Study: PA Heart Failure Patients Near Fracking Were More Likely To Be Hospitalized

Related Article:

-- Dept. Of Health To Give DEP Advisory Committee Update On Oil & Gas Production Health Registry

Related Article This Week:

-- Susquehanna River Basin Commission Updates Instream Water Monitoring Website With New Features

[Posted: December 22, 2020]


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