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Marcellus shale health data to be tracked

The state Department of Health wants to initiate a system of tracking health and environmental data related to gas drilling in the Marcellus shale.

The department, which made several recommendations to Gov. Tom Corbett's Marcellus Shale Commission, aims to work with the panel to develop research that will make it easier to investigate complaints of illness that may be associated with gas drilling, said Brandi Hunter-Davenport, deputy press secretary for the department.

"If the department would find that the health of the citizens of this commonwealth were in jeopardy due to drilling or any other activity within our borders, steps will be taken to alert the public and advise on appropriate health responses," she said. "In the meantime, the department continues to do its due diligence to thoroughly investigate any concerns it receives."

Recommendations made to the commission include allowing the department to investigate concerns raised by citizens, routinely evaluate environmental data about Marcellus shale-related activities and educate the public and providers on the drilling process and whether or not they have the potential to cause human illness. It also wants to oversee the creation of a registry to follow people who live in close proximity to drilling sites or are occupationally exposed.

Dr. Bernard Goldstein, interim director of the Center for Healthy Environment and Communities at the University of Pittsburgh, agrees with the recommendations, which express the need for more investigation and collection of centralized resources.

He recommends performing prospective rather than retrospective investigations in order to keep up with any possible health or environmental concerns that could arise. By doing this, evaluations will be more accurate because they will pinpoint specific negative elements as they happen rather than finding them later on and attributing them to the Marcellus shale, he said.

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