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Pennsylvania Department of Health doesn't keep track of drilling health complaints

| Saturday, June 11, 2011

ALLENTOWN, Pa. — The Pennsylvania Department of Health said Friday that it does not formally keep track of citizens' health complaints about gas drilling and has not, as a result, linked drilling to any health consequences.

"We have not made a conclusive link between an individual's health and natural gas drilling," agency spokeswoman Brandi Hunter-Davenport said in response to an Associated Press inquiry. "The Department will continue to monitor any citizen complaints which come to our attention."

The AP asked the health department for data on the number of drilling-related complaints it has received from citizens — and whether the agency has ever made a finding that drilling impacted human health — in the wake of claims by a northern Pennsylvania hairdresser who says that a gas well near her home made her sick.

Though gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale has boomed since 2009, with more than 3,200 wells drilled to date, Hunter-Davenport was unable to say this week how many health complaints the agency has received and investigated.

"Currently, we do not have a centralized database but are working with the Marcellus Shale (Advisory) Commission and anticipate that in moving forward we will be more systematically engaged in addressing the health aspects," she said via email Friday.

Gov. Tom Corbett appointed the Marcellus commission to study the economic, environmental and public health impacts of natural gas drilling and to issue a set of recommendations.

A commission panel heard testimony last month from Health Secretary Eli Avila, who acknowledged the department lacked a systematic approach to investigating health concerns arising from gas drilling. Avila is scheduled to appear before the full commission next week.

Hunter-Davenport said in an earlier email that the department looks into every complaint it gets.

"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.

Crystal Stroud, 28, told an anti-drilling rally in Harrisburg this week that her speech slurred, her balance faltered, her hands trembled, her hair fell out, and her heart rate and blood pressure rose after a gas well was drilled 1,200 feet from the home she shares with her husband and 4-year-old son.

She said a laboratory told her April 11 that her water well was contaminated with barium, chloride, strontium, manganese, lead, methane, radiological material and radon. And she said many others in heavily drilled Bradford County have contracted mysterious ailments, too.

The company that drilled the well, Dallas-based Chief Oil & Gas LLC, has denied Stroud's claim, saying it investigated and "found no evidence to date that we were the cause of the alleged contamination of her water well." A Chief spokeswoman said its well has not yet been hydraulically fractured, and that none of the chemicals or metals that Stroud says made her sick were used in the drilling process.

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