Pennsylvania ignoring fracking health reports

Another deeply troubling story about the failure of our government leaders to protect Americans from the consequences of fracking is coming out of Pennsylvania. A blistering investigation from StateImpact Pennsylvania reports that two retired employees of the Pennsylvania Department of Health were instructed by their bosses to systematically ignore residents who reported health concerns they thought were related to natural gas development. The retirees claim they were ordered not to take or return calls on fracking-related health reports and were barred from attending community meetings on the topic without permission.

Fracking-related pollution has been linked to a wide range of health concerns around the country—including respiratory and neurological problems, birth defects, and cancer. People in Pennsylvania and in fracking communities all around the country have reported a wide range of health issues when fracking comes to town – rashes, respiratory problems, nose bleeds, headaches. (The “List of the Harmed” maintained by the Pennsylvania Alliance for Clean Water and Air documents more than 6,000 reports from around the country.)

The fact that the state health department—the state officials tasked with safeguarding public health—not only failed to investigate reports, but were directed to ignore them, is inexcusable.

This is one of the most troubling—but unfortunately, not surprising—examples of how our leaders at the state and federal levels have been failing to put the health of Americans over profits for powerful oil and gas interests. And if it was happening here unreported for so long, how are we to know it’s not happening in other states?

Our federal leaders have let the American people down as well. EPA dropped an investigation into drinking water contamination in Dimock, PA—as well as in Texas and Wyoming—without sufficient explanation, despite evidence of lingering fracking-related contamination and health concerns.

Avoiding investigation of health complaints provides enough cover for frackers to continue claiming there’s “no proof” of health impacts. This is backwards. It’s the responsibility of our public officials to act in the public interest—not to benefit the oil and gas industry’s bottom line.

Indeed, the National Association of County and City Health Officials has called loud and clear for increased involvement from public health professionals and health departments to address the environmental and public health threats from fracking. Unfortunately, it seems politics has been getting in the way. And even the mechanism that is supposed to help officials address these problems—the federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, which is part of the Center for Disease Control—has been delayed in publishing the results of its own investigations into drinking water contamination and air pollution.

State officials and legislators nationwide need to ensure that their health agencies and experts are free from industry influence and not protecting polluters instead of helping victims in dire need of assistance.