Philadelphia, Pa. (July 1) – The advocacy group Food & Water Watch submitted today a Right-to-Know request to the state attorney general’s office, seeking any and all documents pertaining to fracking-related public health concerns in the state. The request comes almost a year after the office indicated to fracking-harmed residents who had unsuccessfully sought help from the Department of Health (DOH) and called on the attorney general to investigate, that it would indeed conduct an investigation. Since then, no evidence of any substantive investigation has surfaced.
In July, 2014, an agent from the attorney general’s environmental crime unit requested from Food & Water Watch and Berks Gas Truth a list of state residents who had claimed to have contacted DOH about fracking-related health concerns, and hadn’t received adequate responses. The agent stated that the office would contact the individuals and conduct an investigation. However, follow-up with residents indicates that at least some interviews have taken place, but no follow-up investigation was ever launched.
“I spoke with the attorney general’s office, shared my story of how the Department of Health handled my health complaint, and was told we would see a report of the investigation. A year later, we haven’t heard a thing. And we still need help,” said Audrey Gozdiskowski, a Wyoming County resident who approached the DOH with a fracking-related health complaint last July and was subsequently contacted by the attorney general’s office.
Ms. Gozdiskowski was one of a dozen affected residents that sent a letter to the attorney general last July, demanding the investigation of the DOH.
This Right-to-Know request comes on the heels of a Food & Water Watch analysis of reams of documents it obtained that clearly demonstrate an ongoing pattern of alarming inadequacy and negligence by DOH in its response to fracking-related health complaints. After a 2014 StateImpact Pennsylvania report revealing that DOH health workers were instructed to identify key fracking “buzzwords,” and told not to respond to fracking-related health complaints, Food & Water Watch requested and eventually received the DOH natural gas drilling log of health complaints. The logs demonstrate that state residents are regularly reporting alarming health concerns, and that state agencies have failed to adequately respond and address these health problems from drilling and fracking.
Food & Water Watch will also be seeking more records from DOH, as significant gaps in data clearly exist in the documents received up to this point.
Common symptoms reported in the logs include breathing difficulty, asthma, throat and nose irritation, noxious odors, skin problems, and abdominal issues. Residents also reported headaches nosebleeds, eye irritation, hair loss and cancer. DOH responses to these complaints did not adequately address the seriousness of the reported symptoms. Many residents, after calling DOH, were simply referred to other state agencies and/or told to have their air or water tested.
As the analysis of the health complaint logs notes, the symptoms residents reported to the DOH are consistent with concerns identified in a range of scientific and public health assessments of the potential health impacts of drilling and fracking. For instance, many peer-reviewed papers point to the dangers of oil pollution from drilling and fracking, and the likelihood of respiratory and other health effects.
Contact: Seth Gladstone – sgladstone[at]fwwatch[dot]org
Food & Water Watch champions healthy food and clean water for all. We stand up to corporations that put profits before people, and advocate for a democracy that improves people’s lives and protects our environment.