Energy. Environment. Economy.

Leading Public Health Official Says Impact Fee Law Violates Medical Ethics

Scott LaMar / WITF

Pennsylvania's Capitol

Public health professionals say the impact fee law signed by Governor Corbett this week could hurt the delivery of health services to injured workers or residents living near gas drilling sites. The legislation allows drillers to withhold information on the chemicals used to frack natural gas wells if the company deems them proprietary, or a trade secret. This would include the chemical’s identity and the concentration level.

A provision does allow health providers access to the information in order to treat a patient, but requires the healthcare worker to sign a confidentiality agreement, that obligates the medical professional to use the information only to treat that individual. Dr. Jerome Paulson, Professor of Pediatrics & Public Health at George Washington University, says the law runs counter to medical ethics.

“All of the oaths (of the medical profession) require us to work for the good of the public in addition to the individual patients,” said Paulson in a phone interview. “So blocking our ability to collect and share information, or make the collection and sharing of information more cumbersome, means we wont be able to fulfill our responsibilities.”

In an emergency situation, the law provides that the health provider would have to give a verbal confidentiality agreement up front, and a written statement later.

“If a health professional determines that a medical emergency exists and the specific identity and amount of any chemicals claimed to be a trade secret or confidential proprietary information are necessary for emergency treatment, the vendor, service provider or operator shall immediately disclose the information to the health professional upon a verbal acknowledgment by the health professional that the information may not be used for purposes other than the health needs asserted and that the health professional shall maintain the information as confidential. The vendor, service provider or operator may request, and the health professional shall provide upon request, a written statement of need and a confidentiality agreement from the health professional as soon as circumstances permit, in conformance with regulations promulgated under this chapter.”

Public health officials also object to aspects of the law that do not require a drilling company, or any of its subcontractors to disclose chemicals or contaminants that occur naturally deep within the formation and may end up in waste water as a result of drilling. Heavy metals and radioactive materials are often released as part of the fracking process and are present in the flow-back fluid. The law also exempts companies from revealing anything that may have resulted from a chemical reaction between several fracking ingredients.

In a letter sent out to his public health colleagues in Pennsylvania, Dr. Paulson, who is also the medical director for National & Global Affairs, Child Health Advocacy Institute and the director for the Mid-Atlantic Center for Children’s Health & the Environment at the Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, D.C., raised red flags about research that could lead to prevention.

“This legislation would block health care professionals and public health professionals from collecting information is (sic) a timely fashion to treat workers or others who may have been exposed to hazardous chemicals and from gathering information about public health hazards,” wrote Paulson.

He also urged his medical colleagues across the state to speak out against the new law.

“There is no medical or public health rational for imposing these cumbersome and time consuming restrictions; and, conversely, there is every medical and public health reason for making this information available to medical personnel and the general public.”

Paulson says regardless of views on natural gas extraction, he believes that in the long run, the restrictions placed on medical professionals could result in “severe, adverse consequences,” which will likely be challenged in court.



  • Briget Shields

    Proof that this administration thinks nothing of the public health crisis rising from the Toxic Fracking for natural gas…….No one on the governors “Marcellus Shale Commission” and people who are very ill writing to the gov., senators, state reps. None of them even as much return a letter let alone visit some of the areas where this is becoming an epidemic.  This entire bill is slamming the door on democracy in PA.

  • Hollie

    It should be illegal to prevent a licensed professional from doing what he or she is required to do in order to keep their license.

  • Francis

    I thought our constitution was suppose to protect our people and the public resources not corporate trade secrets.  I keep forgetting that corporations buy elections not true democracy

  • Hjwinterrowd


  • Anonymous

     Bravo, Dr. Paulson!  Prepare to get pilloried by the oil and gas industry PR machine as some sort of wacko doctor who does not know what this law really means.  I would encourage all who are outraged by this restriction on doctors and medical care to go to the website of the PA Medical Society and sound off in their comment section. I am posting the link to this article there so that I am sure they see it.  Here’s the PA Medical Society article link where comments are encouraged:

  • Shirley

    Just another instance where our government is selling citizens out to big business. Pennsylvania seems to be a “sacrifice” zone for the betterment of the multitude.  

  • Jerri

    I was exposed repeatedly in 2011 by hydraulic fracturing chemicals and waste residuals in Confluence and surrounding areas and I have been experiencing severe health problems since; yet none of my doctors know how to test or treat me because NO ONE has yet released to them the toxic chemicals used and released.  Thanks Tom Corbett.  Thanks Republicans, for ignoring my pleas for help.

  • Anonymous

    I worked with a guy who lived in Kiev, Ukaraine. It was across the river from the nuclear disaster ,Chernoble.  The sirens were blowing but the government would not tell the people of the disaster or the potential for harm. 17,000,000 people lived there.He is here because his kids have brain tumors caused by the radioactive situation.Pittsburghs childrens hospital was one that reached out to help. I fail to see the difference between the State of Pennsylvania and the Soviet Union in responding to the disasters.All of Europe has been impacted for thousands of years and so will the Applachian range.Transparency and openness are essential for a Free Society.Our corporate media has failed to produce the truths that exist, even while being protected by the first ammendment.Our elected officials have distorted the purpose of their positions through funding the next election. Is vulture capitalism the problem as stated in the GOP debates? Or is there other situations creating this disaster? Please open the debate.

  • Sharoy78

    I guess that tells you what your Gov. thinks of the citizens that voted him in.  He is draconian, putting people ‘s lives and health at risk.  Why doesn’t he just come out and say: show me the money?  Sounds like that may be what counts with him.  Dr. Jerome Pauleson is seeing the bigger picture which is likely a lot of ill people.  He is a Hero at a time when we need heroes.
    I say sue your neighbor and the oil companies they are only looking at the money not others health and they will ruin yours , collect the money and move south I would bet. 

  • Carrie

    People are waking up….the government is getting nervous or they wouldn’t try to put such ridiculous measures in place. 

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