State Improves its Response to Hydraulic Fracturing Environmental Health Concerns

On Aug. 18, 2014, the Pennsylvania Department of Health (DOH) announced enhancements to its internal processes for responding to environmental health concerns and complaints specifically related to hydraulic fracturing.

“Protecting the public’s health, and ensuring that citizens and health care providers have access to accurate, timely, and relevant information, is a primary responsibility of the department, and one that the governor and I take very seriously,” said Secretary of Health Michael Wolf in a news release. “The improvements we’re announcing today will further enhance these efforts and reflect our ongoing commitment to prioritizing the health needs of all Pennsylvanians.”

Earlier this summer, Wolf created a working group within the department to determine how processes could be improved. As a result, DOH has:

  • Provided information on how to file an environmental health complaint through partners throughout the state, including targeted outreach to the medical community, who are often the first to learn of environmental health concerns
  • Enhanced the environmental health section of the DOH website, emphasizing accessibility and easy navigation;
  • Began a policy of responding to all environmental concerns with written letters to better track and document correspondence;
  • Committed to better coordination and communication with the Department of Environmental Protection when dealing with complaints involving both agencies as well as when complaints need to be transferred from one agency to another.

The Pennsylvania Medical Society supports continued study of the effects of hydraulic fracturing on public health. Two years ago, we conducted a survey among physician members statewide to gain a better understanding of the types of questions patients are asking and identify the information gaps that physicians may be experiencing. The data from that survey was submitted to the DOH for evaluation.

Collecting anonymous health data and conducting comprehensive studies of the health of people within the affected communities are key steps to understanding this industry’s potential health risks, facilitating physicians’ abilities to treat their patients, and overall, keeping our communities healthy.