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Adam Garber,
PennEnvironment

New Report: Fracking encroaches on PA’s most vulnerable residents

53,000 children at risk
For Immediate Release

The PennEnvironment Research & Policy Center released a new report today revealing the proximity of fracking operations and the associated infrastructure to Pennsylvania’s most vulnerable residents – children, seniors, and the sick. Entitled “Dangerous and Close,” the report shows that there are 166 schools and 165 childcare providers within once mile of a permitted fracking well site.

“The places where Pennsylvania children live, learn, and play shouldn’t be shadow of dangerous fracking,” said Allie DiTucci, PennEnvironment’s fracking campaign organizer. “We must take basic steps to protect our kids and other vulnerable populations from the negative health effects of fracking, and advocate on their behalf in a political process that favors frackers.”

In response to the report’s findings, organizations represented at the news conference used the event as an opportunity to kickoff a new coalition: Pennsylvania Health Professionals for a Livable Future. The coalition was formed to bring the expertise of Pennsylvania’s health community to this discussion, and promote commonsense policy solutions to address the public health threats posed by fracking.

“On behalf of my team of scientists and healthcare professionals, I can state with increasing certainty that the gas industry processes in western PA have negatively impacted residents' health,” said Raina Rippel, Executive Director of the SW PA Environmental Health Project. “Documented, harmful factors of proximity, length and severity of exposure make it imperative that protecting children's health must be used to define an appropriate setback distance.”

“The number of hospitals and child care providers located near fracking sites has grown dramatically over the last five years,” said Elizabeth Ridlington, a policy analyst with Frontier Group and co-author of the new report, as well as a similar analysis released in 2013. “Despite growing evidence of the damage fracking causes to our environment and health, shale gas drilling continues to creep closer to the most vulnerable Pennsylvanians. 

The main finding of PennEnvironment’s “Dangerous and Close” report include:

  • There are 166 schools, 165 child care providers, 21 nursing care providers and six hospitals in Pennsylvania within one mile of a permitted fracking well site;
  • Approximately 53,000 Pennsylvania children under the age of 10, and 41,000 seniors 75 years of age and older live within one mile of a permitted fracking well site;
  • Across the state, there are 52 schools, 51 child care providers, two nursing care facilities, and two hospitals within one mile of gas compressor stations, which produce hazardous air pollution while moving gas to markets.
  • More than 220 violations of environmental and public health regulations have occurred at wells within one mile of a Pennsylvania school, while 180 violations have occurred within one mile of a child care provider, 28 violations have occurred within one mile of a nursing care facility, and 13 violations have occurred within one mile of a hospital between 2001 and May 2015

The new report utilized the one-mile radius based upon research that shows increased risk of water and air pollution in close proximity to fracking sites.

"As a nurse, I am deeply concerned that so many of the most vulnerable, children, elderly, and hospitalized patients in Pennsylvania are being put in harm’s way by their close proximity to fracking sites and compressor stations," stated Katie Huffling, a nurse-midwife and Director of Programs for the Alliance of Nurses for Healthy Environments. "Exposures to pollutants from these sites are linked to a wide array of health impacts including cancer, asthma, and poor pregnancy outcomes. Pennsylvania needs to do better to protect the health of its citizens from the harms of fracking."

Pennsylvania Health Professionals for a Livable Future includes the Alliance of Nurses for Healthy Environments, PennEnvironment, Physicians for Social Responsibility - Philadelphia, SEIU Healthcare Pennsylvania, and Southwest Pennsylvania Environmental Health Project.

The coalition of health experts is calling on Pennsylvania’s regulators and elected officials to implement the following policies to reduce the health threat posed by fracking in the Commonwealth:

  • Require a minimum setback of one mile for all fracking operations and associated infrastructure relative to schools, child care providers, hospitals and nursing care facilities.
  • Ban open-air waste pits used to store contaminated flowback water from the fracking process.
  • Remove the doctor gag order from Pennsylvania’s Act 13.
  • Create a public health registry for healthcare professionals and affected individuals to report impacts associated with fracking and other natural gas activities in Pennsylvania.
  • Make provisions for the training of health professionals, including those employed by the PA DOH, about the health impacts of fracking.

 ”We’re deeply concerned about the future impacts unconventional drilling can have on one of our most vulnerable populations—our children,” said Amanda Lapina, Vice President of SEIU Healthcare. “As healthcare workers, we’re deeply concerned about the future of healthcare, especially given that the long-term health impacts of unconventional drilling are largely unknown.”

“Fracking is a Faustian deal where the long term consequences to our health and environment are dangerous and irreversible,” said Dr. Walter Tsou, President Emeritus of Philadelphia Physicians for Social Responsibility, and the former head of the Philadelphia Health Department and Montgomery County Health Department.

Other opinion leaders in Pennsylvania, such as Rep. Dan Frankel, have made policy proposals do address the health impacts of fracking: “Act 13 could limit a doctor’s ability to discuss the chemicals involved in natural gas fracking with their patients who might be harmed by them.  My bill, the Patient Trust Act, would limit the ability of both the legislature and the fracking companies to interfere in the doctor-patient relationship.”

“There are some things that are non-negotiable, and one of those things is our children’s health and safety,” stated DiTucci. “When Pennsylvania’s top health experts raise the warning flag, we must take swift and immediate action to protect Pennsylvanians from fracking.”