June 8, 2011 —
The Upper Delaware Council (UDC) learned last week that a study of the potential health impacts of gas drilling has been proposed for the Delaware River Basin. The Health Impact Assessment (HIA) is believed to be only the third of its kind in the nation and, if approved, the UDC would be invited to become a stakeholder in the process.
Larysa Dyrszka, MD, a retired pediatrician from Bethel, informed members of the UDC during their June 2 meeting about the proposed objective scientific study, then provided copies of the brief application for the HIA for their review. HIAs are typically used to help policymakers address the impacts on human health when considering decisions in land use matters, like transportation, agriculture and energy.
“The HIA informs policy, procedure or regulations and, in this case, the process will explore the impacts of hydro-fracturing for natural gas in relation to human health,” said Dyrszka.
Part of the process includes a scoping mechanism that is similar to an environmental impact study, according to Dyrszka.
“The scoping part evaluates how large an area should be studied, what population should be studied, along with other factors.”
An initial proposal was filed on June 1 by the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health, which would serve as the lead agency in the study. “We will know within about a month whether the brief proposal has been accepted,” said Dyrszka. “If so, Dr. Mary Fox of Hopkins University [the HIA’s principal investigator] will be looking for additional stakeholders for input to the full proposal to be developed from August into September.”
Funding will determine how extensive the study will be. The $125,000 grant applied for would fund an intermediate study. A comprehensive study in Garfield County, CO cost roughly $500,000. The grant is awarded through the PEW Charitable Trust and Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
“Some health impact studies are done on things like traffic patterns or lighting projects,” said Dyrszka. “This would be more comprehensive and looks at many determinants of health in humans.”
The idea of an HIA came out of a December 2010 meeting of stakeholders in the Pinchot Institute’s Marcellus Shale Report, an overview of best management practices, current regulations and natural resource information, which was facilitated by the Upper Delaware River Roundtable.
The roundtable subsequently hosted a meeting in April, which introduced HIA as a potential land-use decision-making tool and participants in the collaborative communications network reached out to public health educational entities to see if they were interested in applying for grant funding for the scientific analysis of health impacts in the region.
Visit www.healthimpactproject.org  for more information.