Gov. Tom Wolf has been drawn into the epicenter of a simmering regional issue – whether natural gas production is linked to childhood cancers.
A letter signed by more than 100 organizations and 800-plus individuals recommends that Wolf direct the state Department of Health to investigate possible links. It also asks that new shale gas permits be suspended until the Health Department investigation can show these cancers are not related to drilling and fracking.
“This is a public health crisis that requires immediate and significant action,” the first paragraph of the letter says, in part.
The missive was emailed to the governor and Health Secretary Rachel Levine on Monday morning, according to Emily Wurth, who helped to spearhead the letter-writing. Environmental groups also plan to hand-deliver a copy of the letter to Wolf during a demonstration in Harrisburg Wednesday.
Wurth is organizing co-director of the Food & Water Watch and Food & Water Action groups, based in Washington, D.C.
The Marcellus Shale Coalition counterpunched on Monday. Dave Spigelmyer, president of the a Pittsburgh-based trade organization, which represents oil and gas drillers and their supply chain partners, wrote to the governor as well. Here is the opening of his email:
“Earlier today, you received a letter from an array of public officials and Hollywood celebrities calling on you to shut down all shale gas development, production and associated activities across Pennsylvania. On behalf of the hundreds of thousands of Pennsylvanians who work and are supported by this industry, and the millions of Pennsylvanians who depend on access to affordable energy for their livelihood and basic needs, I urge you to reject this ridiculous request.
“Fundamentally, it is shameful to exploit the very real and heart-breaking issues associated with childhood cancer; they should not be fodder to advance a political agenda.”
There have been concerns locally about the effects of natural gas production, in light of a number of cases of childhood and young adult cancers being diagnosed in Washington, Greene, Fayette and Westmoreland counties over the past decade. They include cases of Ewing’s sarcoma, a rare cancer, in some communities comprising the Canon-McMillan School District.
In April, the state Health Department published a review of childhood cancer rates, including Ewing’s sarcoma, in Washington County and Canon-McMillan. The authors found the rates were “not consistently and statistically significantly higher than expected” during the time the study was undertaken.
Southwest Pennsylvania Environmental Health Project, a Peters Township nonprofit, has questioned the department’s findings and seeks additional information.
A number of private and public meetings have been conducted on this issue in recent months. EHP is hosting one from 6 to 8 p.m. Tuesday at Bella Sera, 414 Morganza Road, Cecil Township. It has been organized by Southwest Pennsylvania Environmental Health Project, a Peters Township nonprofit.
Director Raina Rippel said her EHP “is hosting this community meeting because we know that parents and kids are worried about the heightened threat of cancer in our region. We want to bring those concerns to light, instead of hiding them in private meetings and incomplete studies.”
Among the groups that signed the initial letter were: Allegheny County Clean Air Now; Climate Reality Project: Pittsburgh & SWPA chapter; Thomas Merton Center EcoJustice Working Group; Green Party of Allegheny County; Allegheny County Chapter of the Izaak Walton League of America; Marcellus Outreach Butler; PennEnvironment; Pennsylvania Council of Churches; Physicians for Social Responsibility-Pennsylvania; and the Sisters of St. Joseph of Baden, Beaver County.
Actors Mark Ruffalo and Shailene Woodley also signed, along with “Gasland” documentary filmmaker Josh Fox, and Bill McKibben, founder of the climate-change focused 350.org.