State Needs to Focus More on Health Effects of Fracking, MDs Say

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More than 250 physicians and medical professionals have signed a letter to Governor Andrew Cuomo requesting the state devote more study to the health impacts of hydraulic fracturing before issuing permits for the controversial natural gas drilling technique.

Critics have long said hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, could result in contaminated public water supplies, increased air pollution and cause a range of public health problems.

The letter refers to a “growing body of evidence” that fracking has harmed the health of people living near well sites in Texas, Louisiana, Pennsylvania and other states:

“Symptoms are wide-ranging, but are typical for exposure to the toxic chemicals and air and water pollutants used in oil and gas development and can often be traced to the onset of such operations,” the letter states.

It was signed by a variety of physicians — academic and practicing, general practitioners and specialists, upstate and downstate. They include Adam Law, an endocrinologist at Weill‐Cornell Medical College, and Henry Schaeffer, Chair of the American Academy of Pediatrics’ district office in New York City.

Fracking is currently under review in New York, and environmental regulators have written draft regulations designed to prevent spills, blowouts and other accidents. While the rules would be the nation’s strictest on fracking, critics say they don’t go far enough.

The review process for fracking has been led by the Department of Environmental Conservation, and is focused principally on areas like well-casing and safe disposal of fluids, rather than on public health.

The signatories of the letter say the current 96-day public comment period doesn’t afford the public enough time to consider the proposed regulations.  

The Department of Environmental Conservation said its draft environmental review examines the potential health impacts of fracking, and comparisons to other states are "inappropriate" because "New York has developed the most rigorous requirements in the nation to protect the public health."

Cuomo’s office did not immediately comment on the letter.

Letter to Cuomo on Fracking