Pa. to Fund Studies of Fracking's Health Impact Stories in Post-Gazette Documented Cases of Rare Childhood Cancers in Area

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA), November 24, 2019 | Go to article overview

Pa. to Fund Studies of Fracking's Health Impact Stories in Post-Gazette Documented Cases of Rare Childhood Cancers in Area


The Pennsylvania Department of Health has authorized $3 million to study whether shale gas operations have raised the risk of rare childhood cancers within the Canon-McMillan School District in Washington County and throughout southwestern Pennsylvania, among other potential health impacts.

On Friday, it said the grant specifically will fund "a case control study of childhood cancers, including Ewing sarcoma, in response to concerns raised about the prevalence of rare cancers in the southwestern area of the state."

The study will use data from the state cancer registry and cancer referral centers - and interviews - to determine population characteristics and expected numbers of rare cancer cases and whether cancer prevalence is elevated in areas affected by shale gas development.

"This study is designed to show if those being diagnosed with Ewing sarcoma tumors or childhood cancers are more often exposed to fracking" than "control" groups elsewhere, the health department stated.

A second study will focus on "acute conditions, such as asthma and birth outcomes, that have previously shown some relations to certain industries in published literature," according to the announcement.

"Doing this in southwestern Pennsylvania will potentially replicate study findings from other regions using similar methodology and will greatly add to the understanding of the potential health effects related to natural gas development," it stated.

A not-yet-identified academic research center or centers will perform the studies, with more precise funding to be established before contracts are signed. UPMC officials previously indicated an interest in conducting research focused on the prevalence of Ewing sarcoma and osteosarcoma - rare bone cancers mostly affecting youngsters.

Announcement of the studies came just four days after parents and activists met in Harrisburg with Gov. Tom Wolf to ask for help in determining why so many childhood cancers seem to be occurring in their communities.

Christine Barton, mother of Ewing sarcoma patient Mitch Barton, was the first to speak with the governor Monday, and Friday morning she said the health department's unexpectedly swift response was "awesome."

"We are very happy. I think it's wonderful the governor has listened to the concerns of the citizens and taken some actions," Ms. Barton said. "He told us there was something in the works and we would be hearing something soon, but this is pretty quick."

She said she is scheduled to speak with state Secretary of Health Rachel Levine and will ask her to investigate environmental exposure pathways for the cancers.

"Our concern is testing the water, soil and air. Is it the gas wells? No one really knows," Ms. Barton said. "I would like further research into Ewing to see if environmental causes are playing a role. That research has never been done and it needs to be."

Heaven Sensky, the Center for Coalfield Justice advocate who organized Monday's bus trip to Harrisburg, said the governor's commitment to conduct studies is a good first step, but how the Health Department follows through will determine its long-term significance.

"We're happy but skeptical, and we're going to hold them accountable," said Ms. Sensky, who credited the families for leading the effort to lobby for the studies. "We want to make sure the process is transparent and that they will be looking at a broad spectrum of our concerns, from the wellhead, to permitting, waste disposal in landfills and petrochemical development."

She said there remain questions about the timing and scope of the state studies, and whether the Health Department will look beyond its cancer registry to include additional Ewing cases identified in a series of articles by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. …

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