Five Pennsylvania environmental groups are calling for an investigation into the state Department of Health, in the wake of allegations it deliberately ignored public complaints about natural gas operations.
As StateImpact Pennsylvania first reported in June, two former state health workers claim they were told not to respond to phone calls from people who complained about gas drilling. Employees also needed high-level permission to attend meetings and forums about Marcellus Shale topics.
Representatives from five environmental groups– PennFuture, PennEnvironment, Clean Water Action-Pennsylvania, Sierra Club Pennsylvania Chapter, and the Clean Air Council– issued a joint statement Tuesday calling for an investigation into the Department of Health’s handling of the issue.
“As it stands right now, the citizens of Pennsylvania will be left in the dark of the impacts of gas development,” says PennFuture CEO Cindy Dunn. “They may be local and individualized, but the sooner we know the sooner they can be addressed.”
Last week former state health secretary Dr. Eli Avila told the Associated Press he believes Pennsylvania has failed to adequately address the issue.
The department disputes the former employees’ allegations and says it is working to investigate health complaints. According to a spokeswoman, the agency has received 51 complaints since 2011 and followed up on all of them– finding no link between drilling and illness.
Dunn believes the first step should be for Governor Corbett’s office to look into whether the complaints were mishandled.
“If they don’t or wont, then the Inspector General would be another step,” she says.
At a press conference earlier this month, Corbett ignored questions from StateImpact Pennsylvania about the matter. His spokesman later said the Governor’s Office had no role in the health department’s policies.
State Senator John Yudichak (D- Carbon) is the minority chair of the Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee, and he’s also been looking into the issue. He sent a letter to Department of Health Secretary Michael Wolf two weeks ago asking him to explain how the agency handles drilling inquires.
A spokesman for Yudichak says he has not received a response yet.