Approaching Dec. 3 Deadline, NY Health Professionals Call on Independent Reviewers to Demand a Comprehensive Health Impact Assessment
(Albany)—Following the November 27 launch of the Concerned Health Professionals of NY initiative, the group of medical experts released an eight-minutevideo appeal to the three independent health experts contracted by the Department of Health to review the DOH’s own internal health review of fracking. The Concerned Health Professionals of NY video summarizes a number of emerging, unresolved health concerns posed by fracking and the reasons that New York’s public health experts have insisted to Governor Cuomo that the enormously important task of assessing the impact of fracking on New Yorkers’ health requires a transparent, comprehensive Health Impact Assessment with full public participation. A hasty, secretive review is no substitute. Only when all public health and environmental concerns associated with fracking have been fully resolved should Governor Cuomo make a decision whether or not to lift the state’s current moratorium and allow fracking in New York State.
To date, no one in the public or medical community has seen the DEC’s review of health impacts, nor has the Cuomo Administration shared details regarding who or what has been involved in its development and execution. As the three independent reviewers examine the DEC’s findings about the impacts of fracking on public health, the public and the medical and scientific community are still in the dark, and no one knows what the process or opportunity for input will be. Yet one of the contracted experts, Lynn Goldman made statements to the press that she has a December 3rd, 2012 deadline to complete her work even though she had signed a contract only 10 days prior and had not yet seen the DOH’s review. And on Thursday, it was revealed that the contract of another of the three reviewers specifies a pay rate of $480 per hour with a $12,000 cap, which allows for only 25 hours of work.
In a personal appeal in the video, Sandra Steingraber, Ph.D., biologist and Distinguished Scholar in Residence, Ithaca College, describes how her family’s fate hangs in the balance of the health review’s findings, and yet she has no input into the study’s design. “We all know each other, the four of us—the three panelists and myself. We go to the same conferences. We have served on some of the same panels. We’ve won some of the same awards. . . .Now you have access to documents and data that I do not have. Now I am your data. So I’m wondering what you will do. I’m wondering what our relationship is. These documents and data profoundly affect me not only as a biologist and an environmental health scientist but as a mother of a child with asthma.”
Larysa Dyrszka, M.D., retired pediatrician and advocate for children’s right to health, describes for the reviewers the gaps and gross inadequacies of the supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement, “The issues that we have called to the DEC’s attention in 80,000 comments include many health impacts, things that were not addressed in the SGEIS, such as radioactivity, community impacts, worker safety. There are pathways of exposure that need to be identified even though the DEC feels that their measures are going to be protective enough that it won’t happen. Well, accidents happen.”
The six health experts featured in the video explain a number of the unresolved health impacts of fracking, including pathways of exposure.
Dr. David O. Carpenter, Director of of the Institute for Health & Environment at the University at Albany, requests that the reviewers consider exposures to radioactivity, “In some of these fracking fluids, we see levels of radioactivity from radium 226 that are thousands of times higher than the standard for drinking water and that are hundreds of times higher than the standards for release of wastewater. But wastewater treatment plants in general do not remove radioactive materials, so then it gets dumped into the local river or stream, and often the intake for the drinking water is downstream from where the wastewater goes in. The big concern is that we will end up with radiation exposure from drinking water that people don’t even know about.”
Margaret Roberts, representing the New York State Breast Cancer Network, urges to reviewers to address the link between diesel exhaust and breast cancer risk. “With fracking there is a 24 hour cycle of constant truck traffic which creates extensive pollution around fracking sites, and there are studies that strongly suggest that women who are exposed to PAH’s in air pollution when they are pregnant or when their children are young, the children will grow up to be at higher risk of cancer later on.”
Concerned Health Professionals of NY is alarmed that the DEC’s release of revised regulations and the accompanying 90-day extension means that fracking is being rushed forward. Putting out revised regulations before the DOH’s own panel of health experts have had a chance to weigh in indicates that the regulations are being based on political expediency, not science. Fracking poses potentially severe public health impacts. Only the most rigorous science must drive the decision, not arbitrary deadlines. This is no place for rush jobs or secrecy. That’s why only an independent, comprehensive Health Impact Assessment is sufficient, which would include public participation, transparency, and follows procedures recognized by leading medical organizations such as the World Health Organization.
Dr. David Carpenter insists that any study of fracking’s health consequences must quantify the associated medical costs. “Economic development at the expense of the health of the public is not a net gain, it’s a net loss because of the costs of the health care, the costs of loss of years of life, the costs of all the medications one must take, and therefore it is extremely important that we have this risk / benefit analysis done right.”
Sandra Steingraber, PhD, describes the conundrum of New York’s environmental health scientists and doctors who live in upstate communities targeted by gas drillers. “We deal with data and evidence, and now we are living in a place that could become a study site for an environmental travesty. We could become the data points in an uncontrolled human experience. If we massively industrialize our rural landscape here in NY and fill it up with carcinogens, fill it up with endocrine disrupting chemicals, and lay down a blanket of smog, then we set in motion the wheels of a human experiment. And now we’re the subjects, the un-consenting subjects of that experiment.”
On November 27, 2012, Philip Landrigan, MD, Chair of the Dept. of Preventive Medicine and Director, Children’s Environmental Health Center at Mt. Sinai School of Medicine released this statement:
“By insisting on a comprehensive health impact assessment as a precondition for a decision to permit or prohibit hydraulic fracturing in our state, Concerned Health Professionals of New York is upholding the fundamental principles of preventive medicine. The unique vulnerability of children to chemical contaminants and air pollution – of the kind we know are associated with drilling and fracking operations – means that we must undertake the most thorough investigation and seek the input of many experts. This is no time for secrecy. Members of New York’s medical community must have access to the documents that are now under review by the team of outside reviewers. The public – who are being asked to assume risks of fracking – must likewise have input to the scientific process that is judging those risks.”