Top U.S. environmental health expert says national study of oil and gas health impacts is warranted

A recent ProPublica report includes comments by Dr. Christopher Portier, the director of the U.S. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) and the National Center for Environmental Health. Regarding the health impacts of living near oil and gas operations, Dr. Portier, our nation's top environmental health expert, stated "In some communities it has been a disaster."

Dr. Portier makes clear that reports of health symptoms to date raise serious and credible concerns that warrant a systematic nationwide study to track people living close to drilling. Unfortunately, no funding is available for such a study, but at least some smaller community studies are moving ahead. We support funding for solid scientific investigation into this issue.

States have not been tracking or investigating reports of health symptoms either. The Pennsylvania Governor's Marcellus advisory commission recommended a comprehensive suite of health actions, including collecting and evaluating clinical and environmental data, a population-based health registry, investigating and responding to concerns and complaints, and more. According to the ProPublica article, the Governor has not acted on these recommendations. In a recent interview, the Governor stated he had not seen any evidence that there are health hazards from living near natural gas operations.

In other health news: 

  • A lawsuit recently filed in federal court claims that fracking of three natural gas wells in Arkansas took place 250 feet from a home and led to toxic fumes of benzene, xylene, and methylene chloride inside the home. Two young children residing inside the home were exposed to carcinogens, according to air samples.
  • Pennsylvania's Northeast Regional Cancer Institute will be mailing questionnaires to 500 randomly selected local residents in ten counties as part of a community health survey in the natural gas drilling region of northeastern Pennsylvania. This is important, considering how little is being done in the way of research, but is not enough.
  • In another recent article, Alisa Rich and Wilma Subra, two environmental experts, explained that chemicals from natural gas operations can fall about 2,000 feet from their point of release. You don't have to have a well in your own backyard to be exposed to toxic chemicals emitted from oil and gas operations.