Pa. makes recommendations to monitor cancer, other illnesses in fracking areas
Pennsylvania's Department of Health wants to start tracking health and environmental data relating to natural gas drilling in the state's Marcellus Shale.
The department has made several recommendations to Gov. Tom Corbett's Marcellus Shale Commission.
So far, the health department has not linked Marcellus Shale drilling with any adverse public health effects. But department spokeswoman Brandi Hunter-Davenport says more data collection and investigations are needed.
"We don't have a systematized data base for tracking," she said. "So what we want to do is move forward, sit down and try to talk about that particular piece, and be more systematic."
Dr. Bernard Goldstein of the University of Pittsburgh's Center for Healthy Environments and Communities shares that view.
"There's no question that in one of the communities surrounding the Marcellus Shale activities there will be an increase in ... pick your cancer, pick your childhood disease," he said. "It might be by chance. It might be by a cause and effect relationship."
In addition to data collection and assessment, the health department wants to start public education and advising health-care providers on how to spot illnesses that may result from drilling activities.
"What the health department needs, what we need in the public, is a prospective ongoing study of people in communities potentially affected by Marcellus Shale activities," said Goldstein. "That means looking at what their exposures are and trying to understand whether or not there will really be health effects."
Goldstein says Pennsylvania lags every other state in its number of public health workers. Only seven of the state's 67 counties have public health departments. The rest rely on the state health department in Harrisburg.