Prove your humanity

The Wolf Administration is giving $2.5 million to the University of Pittsburgh to study possible health impacts from fracking.

Communities in southwestern Pennsylvania have been calling for the state to investigate for more than a year.

The money will fund two observational epidemiological studies at Pitt Public Health to be finished within two years. One will look at the possible relationship between fracking and childhood cancers in southwestern Pennsylvania. The other aims to replicate past studies on several health impacts, such as asthma. Pitt plans to publish quarterly updates.

Dozens of children and young adults have been diagnosed with Ewing sarcoma and other forms of cancer in Washington, Greene, Fayette, and Westmoreland counties, outside Pittsburgh, where energy companies have drilled more than 3,500 wells since 2008. The cases were first reported by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Ewing sarcoma has no known environmental cause, but the families suspect the cases are tied to fracking.

Heaven Sensky, a community organizer with the Center for Coalfield Justice, said this is welcome news for families who have been pushing the state to act.

But she said they still want the state to examine all parts of the natural gas industry.

“At least half of the Ewing sarcoma cases in our communities are centrally located around waste, waste streams and waste facilities and not necessarily wellheads,” she said.

Sensky also said she wants a moratorium on new fracking operations until the studies are done.

Laura Dagley, a registered nurse and medical advocacy coordinator with Physicians for Social Responsibility, said she wants to make sure communities are protected during the two years the studies are underway.

She said while more study is always important, groups such as hers have already produced a lot of research showing negative health impacts from fracking.

“I think it’s frustrating that we put the burden on communities to show that they’re sick enough in order for the government to take action,” Dagley said.

The health department reported in March that the incidence rates for childhood cancer in counties with fracking “did not reach statistical significance.”

In a statement, Marcellus Shale Coalition president David Spigelmyer said health and safety is the industry’s “top commitment” and that he looks forward to working collaboratively as the studies progress.

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This story is produced in partnership with StateImpact Pennsylvania, a collaboration among The Allegheny Front, WPSU, WITF and WHYY to cover the commonwealth's energy economy.