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Fracking health survey needs more time

By Fritz Mayer
February 12, 2013

In a letter to Joe Martens, commissioner of the NY Department of Conservation (DEC), Dr. Nirav Shah, commissioner of the NY Department of Health (DOH), said his review of the health impacts of hydraulic fracturing would require a few more weeks to complete, which means a deadline regarding the SGEIS will be pushed back.

Here is the letter dated February 12.

Commissioner Martens,In September, you asked me to initiate a Public Health Review of the Department of Environmental Conservation’s (DEC) draft Supplemental Generic Environmental ImpactStatement (SGEIS) for High Volume Hydraulic Fracturing (HVHF).

The Department of Health review is considering whether the final draft SGEIS adequately identifies potential public health impacts of HVHF and whether additional mitigation measures are needed beyond those already proposed in the draft SGEIS. The decision to permit HVHF is important, and involves complex questions about the impact of the process on public health.

The time to ensure the impacts on public health are properly considered is before a state permits drilling. Other states began serious health reviews only after proceeding with widespread HVHF. In my view, that is not the right approach for New York to take if we are serious that public health is the paramount question in making the HVHF decision. And as Health Commissioner, protecting the public health is my primary job. The Department of Health review of the EIS is on-going.

In particular we are focused on the relationship of HVHF to the health impacts of drinking water contamination, but also other areas such as air quality and community impacts. In recent weeks, work has been initiated or published by the scientific community to analyze these health impacts and which may help in addressing these areas.

These are the first comprehensive studies of HVHF health impacts at either the state or federal level. They include:

• The US EPA hydraulic fracturing study. This is a study of potential impacts of HVHF on drinking water resources. Commissioned by Congress, this includes 18 research related projects. The EPA published a 278 page progress report a few weeks ago which we are reviewing.

•Geisinger Health Systems study. Geisinger, which cares for many patients in areas where shale gas is being developed in Pennsylvania, is undertaking studies to analyze health records for asthma and other respiratory diseases, accidents and injuries, as well as birth outcomes.