Researchers in heavily drilled Pennsylvania were preparing Tuesday to release findings from taxpayer-financed studies on possible links between the natural gas industry and pediatric cancer, asthma and poor birth outcomes.
The four-year, $2.5 million project is wrapping up after the state’s former governor, Democrat Tom Wolf, in 2019 agreed to commission it under pressure from the families of pediatric cancer patients who live amid the nation’s most prolific natural gas reservoir in western Pennsylvania.
A number of states have strengthened their laws around fracking and waste disposal over the past decade. However, researchers have repeatedly said that regulatory shortcomings leave an incomplete picture of the amount of toxic substances the industry emits into the air, injects into the ground or produces as waste.
The Pennsylvania-funded study involves University of Pittsburgh researchers and comes on the heels of other major studies that are finding higher rates of cancer, asthma, low birth weights and other afflictions among people who live near drilling fields around the country.
Tuesday evening’s public meeting to discuss the findings will be hosted by University of Pittsburgh School of Public Health and the state Department of Health, on the campus of state-owned Pennsylvania Western University.
Edward Ketyer, a retired pediatrician who is president of the Physicians for Social Responsibility Pennsylvania and who sat on an advisory board for the study, said he expects that the studies will be consistent with previous research showing that the “closer you live to fracking activity, the increased risk you have a being sick with a variety of illnesses.”
“We’ve got enough evidence that associates, that links, that correlates fracking activity to poor health — and the biggest question is why is anybody surprised about that?” Ketyer said.
The gas industry has maintained that fracking is safe and industry groups in Pennsylvania supported Wolf’s initiative to get to the bottom of the pediatric cancer cases.
The study’s findings are emerging under new Gov. Josh Shapiro, also a Democrat, whose administration has yet to publish or otherwise release the researchers’ reports since taking office earlier this year.