Why didn’t anyone invite the state Department of Health to a hearing at the capitol today about the environmental and health impacts of natural gas drilling?
Dr. Bernard Goldstein, a professor emeritus with the University of Pittsburgh, says it’s because the state hasn’t given the agency the regulatory role it deserves.
“There is basically nothing happening at the Department of Health related to the Marcellus Shale,” says Goldstein. “There’s no funding in Act 13. Not one penny. That’s wrong.”
The House Democratic Policy Committee held today’s hearing, and they did invite representatives from the Department of Environmental Protection and the gas industry (who did not attend).
The committee heard testimony about issues related to air and water quality from scientists, environmental groups, and former DEP Secretary John Hanger, a Democratic candidate for governor.
In his testimony, Goldstein argued the state Department of Health (DOH) should be required to do public health monitoring in communities where shale gas development is occurring and respond to complaints.
He pointed to a recent study he co-authored, which found that stress was the top concern for people who say they’ve been negatively impacted by gas drilling — it beat out other physical complaints like noise and odor.
“They’re more concerned about the fact that nobody’s answering the phone, and people are lying to them, is what they’re saying.”
“[Goldstein] makes a very good point.” says Rep. Greg Vitali (D- Delaware) “We need a health registry or some bureau in the Department of Health which can collect and disseminate these complaints.”
Despite the fact that the DOH was not at this particular hearing, a spokeswoman emailed StateImpact to say the agency is looking into developing a health registry for Marcellus Shale-related concerns:
We are currently exploring opportunities for public/private partnerships for a registry, as well as whether we can achieve the same goals through enhanced utilization of our existing, environmental health tracking tools. The Department of Health is always interested in partnering with both academic as well as public health systems. This is something the department has done for years. We have been meeting with several organizations (University of Pennsylvania, University of Pittsburgh, Geisinger, etc.) around the state over the last year to help encourage collaboration and coordination and examine any studies currently taking place.
New York State has cited public health concerns as one of the reasons for its continued moratorium on shale gas drilling.