Pennsylvania Department of Health will note fracking complaints
People who write to the state Department of Health to express worry that natural gas drilling might affect their health will receive return letters to document the correspondence, the agency said on Monday.
The Pennsylvania Department of Health updated its process for handling environmental health complaints as a result of meetings among department officials on how to address reports by former employees-turned-whistle-blowers that the department intentionally ignored complaints about fracking.
Secretary of Health Michael Wolf said the department will try to better inform citizens on how it handles fracking concerns.
“We want to make sure everyone out there understands when they reach out to us, they're going to get through, and we will make sure we follow up,” he said.
Environmental advocates have criticized the state's treatment of potential public health effects of natural gas drilling. In mid-June, National Public Radio's online StateImpact newspaper reported that drilling-related complaints intentionally went unanswered.
Wolf said he “firmly believes” every complaint has been handled appropriately, but he wanted to consider the concerns expressed. Department managers began meeting to review the complaint process on July 28.
In addition to sending letters, the department will provide information on how to file complaints through doctors, nurses and primary care clinics. The department's website will emphasize environmental health, and the Health Department will coordinate with the Department of Environmental Protection when complaints involve the DEP.
Several organizations — including the Pennsylvania Medical Society — have urged state government to monitor well water in fracking areas and to obtain independent studies on potential health effects. Companies drilling in the deep Marcellus and Utica shale formations use hydraulic fracturing, which smashes the rock with water, sand and chemicals to bring gas to the surface.
Wolf said his department cannot release results of its investigations because of medical confidentiality laws. But it can analyze data and refer cases to other agencies.
Jill Kriesky, associate director of the Southwest Pennsylvania Environmental Health Project, said the department's interest in addressing concerns is a positive sign. She'd still like the state to spearhead scientific research about fracking and potential health effects involving air and water quality.
“We welcome their interest in becoming more responsive,” she said.
Some activist groups, including PennEnvironment, plan a visit to the Capitol building in Harrisburg on Tuesday to call for a third-party investigation into unanswered complaints, public health assessment near fracking sites and a publicly available registry of complaints.
Melissa Daniels is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach her at 412-380-8511 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Chief justice revokes Feudale’s senior judge status
- Pennsylvania Senate defeats tax overhaul plan
- Western Pa. dairies get creative to ensure eggnog supply
- Settlements in Sandusky scandal up to nearly $93 million for Penn State
- White House Christmas tree sent from Pennsylvania
- Philly traffic stop turns violent; trooper shot in shoulder
- Philly DA says training helped prosecutors named in scandal
- Bucks County tells state: No budget, no tax payments