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Healthcare professionals against fracking urge state to look at more research

Karen Dewitt
Dr. Sandra Steingraber, of Ithaca College, says more studies have come out this year than in 2011 and 2012 combined.

A group of healthcare professionals are seeking a meeting with Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s health department, saying they have compiled a compendium of new and ongoing research highlighting numerous health risks associated with the controversial natural gas drilling process called hydrofracking.

The health experts include a doctor, a veterinarian, and a Cornell University medical professor, who have requested a meeting with Cuomo’s acting health commissioner, Dr. Howard Zucker, to go over the growing number of studies indicating numerous health risks associated with fracking.

Dr. Sandra Steingraber, of Ithaca College, says the compilation of results and ongoing research created by the group shows numerous potential dangers. They include everything from worsening air pollution and water contamination to potential earthquakes and increased crime, due to the boom in the gas extraction business. She says there’s more data than ever to look at.  

“There’s now a parallel boom in research,” said Steingraber, who notes the first four months of 2014 saw more studies published than all of 2011 and 2012 combined.

The healthcare professionals say they don’t know whether Cuomo’s acting health commissioner is looking at the same data. There has been no public information about the health review, which has been continuing for nearly two years now. Since it began, Cuomo’s former health commissioner, Dr. Nirav Shah, has resigned to take a job in the private sector and has yet to be replaced.

“There’s a kind of black curtain over the whole process,” Steingraber said.

Hydroracking has been in limbo in New York state for more than five years. The health care professionals say another five-year moratorium is warranted, in light of all of the new data and ongoing health studies.

Meanwhile, another group of fracking opponents say the governor’s environmental agency should begin an entirely new review of the potential impacts of fracking, in light of all of the new data since the supplemental environmental impact statement was started in September of 2009. Walter Hang, with Toxics Targeting, says the original draft is now outdated.

“It’s just missing so much current information,” said Hang. “It’s simply not appropriate to base a final decision on.”

Hang says a comprehensive public health impact study should be conducted before any more steps are taken.

The environmental impact process has been on hold since Cuomo’s health department began the health review. The governor and his health officials have repeatedly said there is no timetable for completion.

Should fracking go forward in New York, a recent state Court of Appeals ruling limits where it can happen. The court said that local governments whose citizens do not want fracking can opt out of allowing the gas drilling process in their city, town or village.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau Chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 public radio stations in New York State. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.