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Doctors ask DOH for more time to study fracking

woman holding anti-fracking signs stand on lawn
Jenna Flanagan
Innovation Trail

Researchers and medical professionals from around the state gathered in Albany Thursday to urge acting Department of Health Commissioner Howard Zucker to impose a 3 to 5 year moratorium on hydraulic fracturing in New York.

The current state moratorium expires on may 15th, 2015.

Physicians, nurses, peer-reviewed researchers and public health professionals are all part of the coalition pushing for a thorough analysis of the health and societal impacts of fracking.

Dr. Kathy Nolan of Concerned Health Professionals of New York says there’s been an increase in fracking health literature in specialist journals, but the medical community is only just beginning to understand the impact of the drilling process.

“These new studies command attention because of several features. They’re appearing in peer review publications providing an indication of the professional merit and the integrity of the research. They report results that are accumulating over time as evidence grows and once imperceptible impacts manifest and become better studied.”

Nolan says the previous research on fracking was done by the oil and gas industry making it extremely limited and biased. She points out idiosyncrasies like the fluctuations of emissions that change exposure levels for people have not been considered or properly researched.

Another pressing matter the group said needed to be address before the health study is completed are baseline studies.

Dr. Larysa Dyrszka also with Concerned Health Professionals of New York says researchers need time to collect environment and health data from potential fracking regions before any drilling begins. That way, Dyrszka says they can clearly differentiate between existing conditions and what is caused by fracking.   

She also says most of the research they are relying on is coming from other states where fracking has been going on for 10 years and some of it is from physicians treating patients while other data is from grassroots organizations collecting testimonials and data from their community.

Medical professionals in other states where fracking is already occurring are investigating the correlation between drilling activity and health conditions like persistent hacking cough, nosebleeds, memory loss and certain types of cancer.

Dyrszka says it will take 3 to 5 years to compile all of that information and present it to the state Department of Health.

Dr. Barton Schoenfeld with Physicians for Social Responsibility also warns that the emerging peer-reviewed studies are pointing to irreparable harm to community and natural resources exposed to fracking. He says it will be much easier to preserve the public health than to combat disease.

“Any possible profit that could be gained in the short term by hydro fracking would be more than canceled out by the long term health care costs.”

Schoenfeld says there is no way the state can afford the long-term care that prolonged exposure to hydraulic fracturing requires.

The signatories to the letter presented to Cuomo administration, believe more of these studies will surface in the coming years and will help the state get a better understanding of the real risks.

The previous Health Commissioner Dr Nirav Shah recently resigned. He began a health review of fracking in September 2012, which is ongoing.

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