Thursday, May 21, 2015

Citizens Advisory Council Hears Presentation From Southwest PA Health Project

The Southwest PA Environmental Health Project made a presentation to the DEP Citizens Advisory Council Wednesday about the need for a health registry to try to document any health-related impacts from Marcellus Shale natural gas development and infrastructure.
Raina Rippel and Jill Kriesky said the Project is staffed by medical health professionals from a variety of backgrounds dedicated to providing information to individuals and communities on issues of public and individual health arising from natural gas development.
Rippel said so far the Project has conducted about 150 individual health evaluations in Southwest PA, but the lack of a control group not affected by natural gas development in Washington County in particular has limited its ability to draw specific conclusions about a direct relationship between natural gas development and health impacts.
A recent workshop convened by the Project including 24 medical professionals from across the United States at the beginning of May concluded--
-- It is too soon to have a health register because the health symptoms reported by individuals are nonspecific to natural gas operations and emissions data from these operations are incomplete;
-- Individual reports of health symptoms should be collected in a roster for evaluation; and
-- Going forward, health emissions data should be collected in a standardized way.
The information now collected by the Project through its evaluations is a roster of information from individuals reporting nonspecific symptoms which the individuals report as being from natural gas operations.
Council member Tim Weston noted he was involved in a project which collected similar self-reported information which was later found to have over-reported the incidence of cancer by as much as one-third when compared to the individual’s actual diagnosis by their doctor.
Kriesky agreed that medical professionals involved in the project stressed the need to collect clinical information from doctors and other health professionals to verify the self-reporting by individuals.
Rippel explained there are several types of health registries, which she emphasized should collect information in a systematic, comprehensive way-- registries which monitor the incidence and prevalence of diseases, registries which provide a surveillance system for unexpected events and registries that provide information on incompletely understood diseases that appear to have the same origins.
Kriensky said although there are 1.2 million people in Pennsylvania within one-half mile of a natural gas well, there is inconsistent documentation of health impacts directly attributable to natural gas development or compressor stations.
She noted there is a great need for information documenting home, school and workplace exposures.
Rippel said a recent white paper published by the Project illustrated the difficulties of determining health impacts from natural gas operations because of the impact of weather and widely varying air emissions from these operations and the episodic nature of reported health complaints.
Senate Bill 375 (Scarnati-R-Jefferson) reintroduced legislation this session creating a Health Advisory Panel on Shale Gas Extraction and Natural Gas Use.
Gov. Wolf included $100,000 in his proposed FY 2015-16 budget to help start a Marcellus Shale health registry.
A copy of the Project’s presentation will be posed on the Citizens Advisory Council webpage.
Acting DEP Secretary John Quigley reported the agency has received over 3,100 comments on the proposal final version of the Chapter 78 and 78A drilling regulations, but all but 320 were form letters.  The comment period closed May 19.
Quigley said the recent discovery of a fish with a cancerous tumor in the Susquehanna River will be considered by DEP in its ongoing assessment of the river. He said science would guide the Department’s actions in determining whether the Lower Susquehanna should be considered impaired.
Acting Secretary Quigley’s comments were in addition to the regular monthly report DEP provides to Council.
In other issues at the Council meeting--
-- RACT 2: Council asked that DEP provide an explanation at its next meeting of why it was treating one facility-- the Brunner Island coal-fired power plant-- differently than all other major sources of nitrogen oxide emissions in its proposed final version of Reasonably Available Control Technology 2 regulations.
Tim Weston reported DEP staff said they conducted their own evaluation of the feasibility of applying selective catalytic reduction technology on the Brunner Island plant and determined it was not feasible and incorporated that finding into the RACT 2 regulation.
Weston said DEP could not identify any other example of how the evaluation of one facility without control technology was used to define what was feasible for a class of similar facilities.
Several individuals made comments to Council during this month’s and last month’s public comment period about the special treatment received by the Brunner Island plant.
-- Act 54 Report On Surface Impacts Of Longwall Mining: Several Council members, including John Walliser, expressed their disappointment over DEP staff not providing the Act 54 Report Committee with its comments on the Act 54 Report and which of the Report’s recommendations the Department agreed to implement.  The Committee developed a list of questions it had about the report.
The Act 54 Report was released in December by DEP found 40 percent of streams undermined by deep coal mining suffered loss of flow, pooling and other impacts.
Council members said, if DEP does not cooperate, they would have no choice but to submit their list of comments and questions to DEP without knowing which Report recommendations DEP supported.
-- Water Well Standards Legislation: Cynthia Carrow reported the Legislative Committee recommended Council develop a statement to support legislation setting construction standards for individual water wells [House Bill 48 (Godshall-R-Montgomery), House Bill 81 (Harper-R-Montgomery)  and Senate bill 653 (Vance-R-Cumberland)].  
Several Council members suggested refocusing the legislation to regulate water well drillers that would have to follow specific water well construction standards taking any potential regulatory burdens away from individual well owners. After discussion about the length of time legislation like this has been pending and the need for action, Carrow agreed to draft a statement for Council.
The next meeting of Council is June 16.  Council did cancel its July meeting and rescheduled it to August 18 to coincide with the next scheduled Environmental Board meeting.
For more information, visit the DEP Citizens Advisory Council webpage.
Lower Than Expected Air Pollutants Found At Drilling Sites

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