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Doctors Ask New York to Study Health Impacts Before Allowing Fracking

Medical professionals and environmentalists sent a letter to Gov. Andrew Cuomo saying the state should study the health effects of gas drilling before allowing more of it.

A group of doctors, nurses and environmentalists is calling on New York officials to study the health risks of gas drilling before allowing hydraulic fracturing in the state.

In a letter sent Wednesday to Gov. Andrew Cuomo, the group said New York’s plan for regulating fracking ignores growing evidence that gas drilling harms public health. The group asked the state to assess disease rates in potential drilling areas to establish a baseline, identify specific risks from drilling and propose steps to mitigate those risks.

Emily DeSantis, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Environmental Conservation, said state officials had taken health effects into consideration in drafting the new regulations for high-volume fracking that were released last week.

“Because New York has developed the most rigorous requirements in the nation to protect the public health and the environment,” she wrote in an email, “a comparison of health impacts in other states is inappropriate.”

New York put a hold on fracking three years ago, just as drilling into the Marcellus Shale formation was taking off in neighboring Pennsylvania. As ProPublica has reported, intense gas drilling in Pennsylvania and elsewhere has been accompanied by mounting complaints about health problems around drilling sites. Neither states nor the federal government currently track or study such reports systematically, however.

On Monday, Pennsylvania’s Gov. Tom Corbett proposed a fee on drilling that would provide the state health department $1 million to $2 million a year to compile and investigate health complaints. The move followed a proposal from the state’s secretary of public health to create the nation’s first drilling-related health registry.

The New York letter, which was signed by more than 250 health professionals and environmental groups, called for the state to conduct a health impact assessment similar to one started last year in a western Colorado community.

In the initial draft of the Colorado study, researchers concluded that new drilling in the area would likely affect residents’ health, but it came under criticism from drillers, and county officials ended the work before a final draft was released.

Bernard Goldstein, professor emeritus at the University of Pittsburgh’s School of Public Health, has criticized officials in Pennsylvania for approving new drilling without adequately studying public health in drilling areas. While he didn’t sign the New York letter, Goldstein said he supports the group’s demands, adding that New York should learn from Pennsylvania’s experience and properly assess health risks before drilling begins.

“To me, the idea of rushing ahead basically refutes all we’ve learned in environmental health science over the last 40 years,” he said.

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