Why New York Needs a Comprehensive Health Impact Assessment of Fracking

On Thursday September 20, Joseph Martens, Commissioner of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) announced that the DEC will do a review of the potential public health effects of fracking. He said, “only after this evaluation is completed will a decision be made about whether to permit high-volume hydraulic fracturing in New York…obviously, if there was a public health concern that could not be addressed, we would not proceed.”

Commissioner Marten’s response to the widespread concerns voiced by Catskill Mountainkeeper, medical professionals, concerned organizations and citizens is a welcome development in the regulatory process. However, his proposed “review of the potential public health effects of fracking” unfortunately falls far short of what is needed – which is a comprehensive Health Impact Assessment (HIA).

An HIA is the gold standard used to study health impact. The process insures that the best available science, and all relevant perspectives are brought to bear on the analysis.  It distinguishes itself from other kinds of public health investigations by being done in advance of any decision to approve or prohibit a proposed activity. It allows for public participation in scoping, hearings, reviews, meetings, and stakeholder consultations, especially with members of targeted communities. The health impact review proposed by Commissioner Martens is NOT an HIA.

In addition the HIA process would:

  • Identify the potential effects of shale gas extraction on the health of the people of New York State and describe what its effects will be on our citizens.  With 19.5 million people, New York is the third most populous state.  Even small increases in the incidence of chronic health problems could potentially impact thousands of people and create ruinous health care costs.
  • Consult independent experts from multiple disciplines to evaluate the complex hazards and exposures created by shale gas extraction.
  • Have special emphasis on vulnerable subpopulations including infants, children, pregnant women and the elderly.  For example, an HIA could examine the associated air pollution impacts on birth weight, childhood asthma, heart attack and stroke.
  • Analyze not only the causes of illness but also the conditions that affect health, which include personal behaviors, social and economic factors, the built environment, and the physical environment.
  • Consider the health risks from cumulative impacts and throughout the entire life cycle of shale gas extraction and transport including radon exposure from pipelines, radon in homes and apartments, exposures to lead and toxic chemicals and the potential for exposure to toxins from drilling wastes.
  • Examine occupational health risks to workers.
  • Recommend actions to minimize or eliminate the health effects that it identifies.

Please send an email using our easy to use form to Governor Cuomo and Commissioner Martens to thank them for agreeing that unless all public health concerns could be addressed, high-volume hydraulic fracturing would not proceed in New York and tell them that the only form of health review that will meet the high standards required is a comprehensive Health Impact Assessment (HIA). Our message to the Governor and the Commissioner is that to do any less would be an abdication of the state’s responsibility to protect the public’s health.


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