Fracking Health Study Narrow, Hasty, and Underfunded Say Health Experts

For Immediate Release

Contact: 

Jorge Aguilar – 202-683-2529; JAguilar@fwwatch.org
Rich Bindell – 202-683-2457; RBindell@fwwatch.org

Fracking Health Study Narrow, Hasty, and Underfunded Say Health Experts

Call On Gov. O’Malley and Maryland Marcellus Shale Advisory Commission To Extend Deadline On Health Study

WASHINGTON - Today, a commissioner from Governor Martin O’Malley’s Marcellus Shale Commission joined three leading medical advocacy groups at a press conference in Baltimore in critiquing the timeline and scope of a study on the possible health impacts of shale gas extraction via hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” that is scheduled for release in June.

Representatives from the Alliance of Nurses for Healthy Environments (ANHE), Maryland Environment Health Network (MdEHN), Concerned Health Professionals of New York  (CHPNY), Food and Water Watch and Ann Bristow warned that the study is poised to fall woefully short of meeting international standards and health study guidelines for protecting public health.

They called on Governor O’Malley to commit more resources and to extend the health study deadline in order to fully assess the potential health effects to all Marylanders. They also noted that the study is limited to investigating possible impacts on public health only among residents of Western Maryland, even though exploitable shale gas reserves are located across the state.

“We are watching the emerging science from other states show increasing harms from fracking. We’re hearing about poisoned drinking water and radioactive waste, as well as smog in places that used to have pristine air.  So it is clear that an eight month study period, funded at $150,000 does not suffice to assess even the top tier of costly health impacts that fracking will likely have in Western Maryland, let alone the rest of the state,” said Rebecca Ruggles, Director of the Maryland Environmental Health Network said.

 “As it currently stands, the State of Maryland is conducting a flawed, rushed, and superficial study that will not help inform Maryland residents—nor their elected officials—about the full burden of possible health risks from the entire process of shale gas extraction,” said Katie Huffling, a registered nurse and the director of programs for the Alliance of Nurses for Healthy Environments. “As nurses, we are also gravely concerned that they will not be including a health cost assessment in their study. If the public is being asked to assume health risks from fracking, it deserves a comprehensive investigation of those risks and their economic costs, not a fig leaf."

Health professionals across the country have argued that a Health Impact Assessment (HIA)—a specific National Research Council-sanctioned process developed by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and the World Health Organization (among others)—must be conducted to inform any decision as critical as whether or not fracking should be permitted in states.

“Drilling and fracking operations are inherently dangerous and pose demonstrable risks to health, especially for children, pregnant women and other vulnerable people living nearby,” said Sandra Steingraber, PhD and cofounder of Concerned Health Professionals of New York. “The proper tool for investigating these impacts is a comprehensive Health Impact Assessment with its vetted protocols and seal of approval by national and international public health institutions. A comprehensive HIA with full public participation, not a rushed study with a political deadline, is what the people of Maryland need and deserve. “

The Marcellus Shale Advisory Commission is currently scheduled to make a final recommendation on fracking in August to Governor Martin O’Malley that will include the health assessment report. 

Ann Bristow, a current commissioner on the Advisory Commission, also joined the medical advocates in calling for more time.

“As a member of Governor O’Malley’s Safe Drilling Initiative Commission, I am very worried that we are moving too fast and not getting all the health data we need to make protective recommendations to the residents of Maryland," said Bristow. “Several commissioners have repeatedly asked for more time and a more thorough scope of work on these critical health issues. If the health study team were on schedule, we would have received the baseline health assessment, with public commentary, last month. We need more time and a guarantee of transparency and public participation."

Food & Water Watch Southern Region Director Jorge Aguilar added that the O’Malley administration should pay attention to the demands of the health community.

“After two years of a largely unfunded process, Governor O’Malley’s administration now seems to be rushing through the final year, when specific studies just got started,” said Food & Water Watch Regional Organizing Director Jorge Aguilar. “The health study team has already missed its first deadline and it’s not clear that the health community will have time to comment on the final report.  The writing is on the wall: this will be an inadequate study unless the time line is drastically modified to address the concerns of the health community.”

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Food & Water Watch is a nonprofit consumer organization that works to ensure clean water and safe food. We challenge the corporate control and abuse of our food and water resources by empowering people to take action and by transforming the public consciousness about what we eat and drink.

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