In Buffalo, Public Health Advocates Call for Independent Health Study of Fracking

A press conference and rally at the regional state Dept. of Health office in Buffalo took place on Thursday October 18th, during which local health professionals and advocates called on Governor Cuomo to commission an independent comprehensive Health Impact Assessment (HIA) of fracking. A similar press conference with healthcare professionals took place in Syracuse the day prior. This call from local advocates comes a week after some of the state’s leading public health professionals, including Dr. David O. Carpenter, director of the Institute for Health and the Environment at the SUNY Albany’s School of Public Health, declared their disapproval of the health review on fracking currently undertaken by Cuomo’s Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC).

As the Department of Health (DOH) now examines the DEC’s findings, no one in the public or medical community has seen the DEC’s review of health impacts, nor has the administration shared details regarding who was involved in its development or what the process and opportunity for input will be. Advocates insist that a full HIA is necessary to better understand the impacts of fracking (including the whole process of gas extraction, from site development to pipeline delivery) on public health before a decision can be made about fracking.

“As a registered nurse who worked near Love Canal, I still wonder if there had been a proper Health Impact Assessment there, if they could have prevented the public health disaster that ensued,” said Mary Herbst, RN, MS, a member of WNY Professional Nurses Association Legislative Committee. “We don’t need any more Love Canals. We need to protect all New Yorkers with an independent comprehensive Health Impact Assessment of fracking now.”

A comprehensive HIA is a formal set of protocols to be used to forecast, and thus avoid, harm. Its protocols were developed by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and the World Health Organization (among others), and they are sanctioned by the National Research Council. A comprehensive HIA is the accepted approach for understanding the health effects of a proposed activity.

“Fracking must be thoroughly and reliably explored, and we need objective, transparent data that is inclusive of the communities where fracking will occur. The only way to achieve this is with an independent comprehensive Health Impact Assessment,” said Dr. Kathleen Grimm, MD, co-chair of the Community Health Worker network of Buffalo.

“There are many studies by various health professionals that show very harmful effects from fracking to animals, especially on reproduction, and to humans, especially on the respiratory, neurological, and gastrointestinal system,” said Cynthia Curran, RN, MS, a clinical assistant professor and president of UB’s International Honor Society. “The only way to properly enlighten all of these facts is with an independent health study, not one done behind closed doors.”

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