Strong appointments to NYS fracking health panel, but more commitments still needed to ensure a robust, public review process

New York State’s Health Commissioner, Dr. Nirav Shah, has named three top-notch public health experts to assist in its consideration of the health risks associated with potential new fracking. These experts – Lynn Goldman, dean of George Washington University’s School of Public Health and Health Services; John Adgate, chair of the Environmental and Occupational Health Department at the Colorado School of Public Health; and Richard Jackson, chair of the Department of Environmental Health Sciences at UCLA’s Fielding School of Public Health – are among the foremost experts in the country in their respective fields and in the field of health impact assessment (HIA).

This satisfies the criterion of appointing well-qualified, independent experts – for which NRDC and others, including more than 90 health professionals from across the state – have been calling.  As such, although we continue to believe the state should commit to conducting a full, independent HIA, it is a welcome announcement and could bode favorably for the state’s on-going review.

That said, there remain a number of critical criteria to ensure a thoroughly legitimate, meaningful health review to which the state has yet to commit.  These include:

  • Opportunity for input by the public and key stakeholders, including local, county and New York State medical and public health professionals, as well as the community members in potentially affected areas of the state.

Notwithstanding the excellent credentials of Drs. Goldman, Adgate and Jackson, none is from New York, and state-based medical professionals – of which there are many exceptionally qualified representatives – should also be consulted.

Further, because the state has already acknowledged that it is unlikely to complete its review before the expiration of a November 29th deadline under New York’s administrative review law, triggering the requirement for further public review and comment of any proposed regulations for new fracking in the state, there is a built-in opportunity to solicit and consider public input on the health review.

  • Employing recognized HIA methodologies, including: utilizing quantitative analytic methods to estimate health impacts and harmful exposures; aggressively seeking out information on health problems reported in communities in regions in which tracking is already underway – including in neighboring states; considering impacts on both physical and mental health; and evaluating occupational health and safety risks to workers, as well as risks faced by the general public in affected communities and their most vulnerable sub-populations.
  • Providing an analysis of health costs associated with the impacts so identified, thereby putting a price tag on the direct and indirect medical costs to the state, and to communities and local health departments, associated with fracking.

From nosebleeds, to headaches and dizziness, to rashes, to dangerous traffic accidents, sharp increases in sexually transmitted diseases, nausea and more, the health effects being reported in communities across the country where fracking takes place are too troubling and too often reported to be ignored. 

New York has come too far in its commitment to conduct an unprecedented, thorough review of the environmental and health risks before deciding whether or not to proceed with new fracking to cut corners now.  Before making any final decisions, the Governor and his administration must commit to a health review that is sufficiently robust – and public – to assure that new fracking would not put New Yorkers’ health at risk.

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