PRESS RELEASE FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE OCTOBER 5, 2011
Media Contact: Bob Liff, M+R Strategic Services – firstname.lastname@example.org or 917-287-7089
Erica Ringewald, Environmental Advocates of NY – email@example.com or 518-210-9903
MORE THAN 250 DOCTORS, MEDICAL AUTHORITIES SAY NYS FRACKING REVIEW GIVES SHORT SHRIFT TO CONCERNS ABOUT PUBLIC HEALTH; CALL FOR PREPARATION OF INDEPENDENT HEALTH IMPACT ASSESSMENT BEFORE STATE MOVES AHEAD WITH PERMITS.
State is ignoring health risks, federal review, and its own executive order in rushing to approve hydrofracking permits.
More than 250 pediatricians, family practitioners, otolaryngologists, endocrinologists, oncologists and other doctors, along with the Medical Societies of at least seven upstate counties and the regional office of the American Academy of Pediatricians, wrote to Governor Cuomo today, warning that the state has failed to analyze public health impacts of hydraulic fracturing in its rush to approve permits for drilling.
“We are greatly concerned about the omission of a critical issue related to the development of natural gas using high-volume hydraulic fracturing, or fracking: human health impacts,” the doctors and medical authorities wrote. (NOTE: A copy of the medical authorities’ letter to Governor Cuomo, along with supporting documentation, is available at www.psehealthyenergy.org.)
Noting that hydrofracking will likely increase health care costs in communities where drilling is likely, as well as increasing costs to mitigate water and air pollution, the medical authorities called on Governor Cuomo to immediately request an independent school of public health to conduct a Health Impact Assessment (HIA), since the state’s Department of Health has said it is unwilling to do so.
The letter notes that the state rejected recommendations from the federal Environmental Protection Agency, in an earlier review of a draft of the Department of Environmental Conservation’s Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement or SGEIS, that the state include “a greater emphasis . . . on the potential health impacts that may be associated with gas drilling and hydrofracking.”
The EPA called for the state Health Department to join with DEC as co-lead agency on the environmental reviews, which the DEC did not do. The lack of consideration of hydrofracking’s impact on public health violates former Governor David Paterson’s Executive Order #41 (2010) specifically directing the DEC to undertake further review of hydrofracking and the impacts of the horizontal drilling deep underground “to ensure that all environmental and public health impacts are mitigated or avoided.”
“Hydrofracking has the potential to significantly destroy the water, air and soil of communities in and around the drilling areas and to effect large state aquifers providing water for millions of families across New York,” said Henry Schaeffer, MD, FAAP, Chair, American Academy of Pediatrics, District II, NYS. “As pediatricians, we are very concerned about how the negative environmental outcomes may impact children’s health, development and general well being in the hydrofracking areas and beyond. Children are far more susceptible to environmental toxins, since they absorb and metabolise toxins at a higher rate for their body mass.
“As the doctors who care for children, we urge caution and more study,” said Dr. Schaeffersaid. “Our children are depending on us to protect them. And in this instance, we must take a stand and do just that. We urge New York state government and our state’s citizens to slow down what appears to be an unnecessarily fast approval process for hydrofracking in New York.”
Rob Moore, executive director of Environmental Advocates of New York and member of the state’s Hydrofracking Advisory Panel, said the Department of Health told his panel that it could assess public health impacts based on data in other states, but that such an assessment was never prepared.
“At the second panel meeting I asked if Governor Cuomo had directed the agency to conduct such a study and the Department of Health’s answer was ‘no’,” said Moore. “Moreover, the agency said they would only study public health impacts and conduct toxicological studies once drilling is underway in New York State.”
Adam Law, MD, a physician specializing in endocrinology and a Clinical Assistant Professor of Medicine at Weill-Cornell Medical College, said medical professionals agree that the time to conduct that health assessment is before drilling gets underway, not afterwards.
“The SGEIS certainly mentions many of the toxic chemicals employed in hydraulic fracturing, the harmful substances in the flowback-produced waters, the vented volatile organic compounds, the production of ozone, among other potential pollutants known to cause human disease,“ said Dr. Law, who is also a board member of Physicians, Scientists and Engineers for Healthy Energy, a group that is conducting a series of scientific assessments of the SGEIS. “But there is no attempt to evaluate the kinds of health consequences that have already been observed in affected communities in those states where hydraulic fracturing is taking place.”
“Because of this glaring omission, this document does not provide a way to form a responsible, evidence-based opinion as to how this industrial process will affect the health of the New Yorkers, nor if adverse effects can be effectively mitigated,” said Dr. Law. “Until there is a formal, independent, health impact assessment conducted by recognized public health researchers, the moratorium on hydraulic fracturing should remain in effect.”
Sandra Steingraber, PhD, a biologist and Distinguished Scholar in Residence in the Department of Environmental Studies at Ithaca College, asked how New York could release a 1,000 pages EIS and not address health impacts.
“We know with certainty that fracking will increase smog and exposure to diesel exhaust and particulates,” said Steingraber, who is also an author and cancer survivor who lives in an area of the Marcellus Shale that would be targeted for hydrofracking. “We know with certainty that exposure to these chemicals, in early life, is associated with preterm birth, asthma, and lowered I.Q. in children, and risk of stroke, heart attack, breast cancer, and diabetes in adults. How many premature deaths will fracking cause in New York State? What are the medical costs? “
Larysa Dyrszka, MD, pediatrician and advocate for children’s right to health, said “The duty of government is to protect the health and safety of its citizens. Policies with far-reaching consequences such as this must take into account the health of the most vulnerable–the largest vulnerable population being children. Children’s metabolism makes them highly susceptible to toxins and that fact has not been considered in the SGEIS. For that reason, and others, we are calling on the Governor and the DEC to order a health impact assessment, and it should be completed and evaluated before moving on with this process.“
Signers of the letter to Cuomo also include the medical societies of Herkimer, Madison, Chenango, Oswego, Cayuga, Tompkins and Otsego counties, along with the American Academy of Pediatrics District II (New York).
The medical authorities’ letter came in part in response to Governor Cuomo’s commitment to rely on science and health concerns in considering the SGEIS, which calls for the issuance of hydrofracking permits throughout the state with the exception of the New York City and Syracuse watersheds.
The DEC claims it exempted the two major municipal watersheds because their water is not filtered, warning that allowing hydrofracking there could lead federal authorities to order the installation of multi-billion dollar water filtration systems. But two weeks before the medical authorities wrote the Governor, a group of 59 scientists from around the world with expertise in water treatment systems, aquatic chemistry or biogeochemistry, wrote him warning that existing municipal drinking water filtration systems are not designed to handle the chemicals and other contaminants included in the flow-back from fracking.
Pennsylvania, which allows hydrofracking in areas near New York’s Southern Tier where many hydrofracking permits would be issued, last spring moved to ban sending contaminant-laden flowback through public filtration systems because nearby waterways showed evidence of contaminants.
The medical authorities’ letter also cites growing evidence from hydrofracking in Texas, Wyoming, Louisiana, North Dakota and Pennsylvania that documents worsening health metrics among residents living close to gas wells and related infrastructure such as compressor stations and waste pits. Those symptoms can often be traced to the onset of such drilling operations.