Cumberland Times-News

Opinion

June 23, 2014

Public health study looks at shale drilling

Cumberland — The health of Western Marylanders will be the focus of a new study coming out in July.

On June 28, the findings of the Public Health study commissioned by the Maryland Marcellus Shale Safe Drilling Advisory Commission will be made public at a meeting at Garrett College.

Maryland is unique among states in conducting a fracking health study with public input and sharing the findings with the public, even before the report goes to the Marcellus Shale Commission. The goal is to identify health risks and determine if best practices can insure that Western Maryland’s public health is protected.

 New York’s health study of Marcellus Shale drilling was started in 2012 and has not yet been published. Gov. Andrew Cuomo has said he will wait until the health study is done, before making a decision about fracking in New York. (The state Assembly just passed a three-year ban, but the New York Senate did not act.)

 In Colorado, an $800,000 study of the health impacts of fracking was proposed by the state legislature. It would have taken 3 years and proponents of the study said that it was needed to address fears. The study was not funded.

Northern Colorado communities have been passing bans on fracking because they fear health and other effects. Pennsylvania still has a gag order on doctors who treat patients for fracking chemical exposure.

To get information about what their patients have been exposed to, they have to sign a confidentiality agreement.

Pennsylvania is also where state health department employees were told not to return calls from citizens with health concerns related to shale gas drilling.

For a public health advocate like myself, that is a chilling revelation. It makes me proud that in Maryland, our state health department appointed its Environmental Health Bureau chief to the Marcellus Shale Commission.

 After watching as 200,000 people in West Virginia lost their drinking water due to chemicals spilled into the Elk River, Marylanders are right to be cautious.

The Greene County, Pa., fire at a Chevron gas well in February was another event that underscored that fracking is not always safe.

 But instead of operating from fear or secrecy, Maryland is moving relatively fast to study the health effects of fracking.

 Last fall, the Maryland Institute of Applied Environmental Health started the health study by conducting community meetings at Frostburg State and Garrett College. Stakeholder comments were made part of a Scoping Report which can be read at www.marcellushealth.org .

 On June 28, from 2 to 4:30 p.m., the initial findings of the fracking health study will be presented to the Western Maryland public.

The location is the Garrett College auditorium and the meeting is open to the public. (For further information, contact Meleah Boyle at meleah.boyle@gmail.com.)

 Western Marylanders should realize this is a special occasion. Attend this meeting and get answers to your health questions about fracking. People in Pennsylvania, New York, and Colorado can’t do that. Attend the presentation on June 28 and watch as Maryland does something no other state has done.

Rebecca Ruggles, director

Maryland Environmental Health Network

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