Prompted by concerns voiced by residents in the Canonsburg and Cecil areas over what many consider a high number of Ewing Sarcoma and other cancer cases in the region, three local organizations hosted an event Thursday to discuss the impact of the shale gas industry.
About 60 residents of the Canonsburg and Cecil areas attended the meeting, “What to Know When Fracking Is Your Neighbor,” at Canon-McMillan Middle School.
A panel of experts from the Center for Coalfield Justice, the FracTracker Alliance, and the Southwest Pennsylvania Environmental Health Project were on hand to provide information and answer questions about the health effects and exposure risks on communities from oil and gas development.
The panelists also encouraged residents to attend a meeting on Monday, Oct. 7 at 6 p.m. at Canon-McMillan High School, where the state Department of Health will discuss results of its investigation into a potential cancer cluster in Washington County.
In the past 10 years, six people with ties to the Canon-McMillan School District have been diagnosed with Ewing Sarcoma, a rare childhood cancer that strikes about 200 people in the United States each year.
In April, the department issued a report in which it found “no conclusive” findings of a cancer cluster.
The October meeting is being hosted by state Reps. Timothy O’Neal and Jason Ortitay.
O’Neal said in a news release he is “hopeful this meeting will provide residents with answers to the questions they have had about the report. I continue to request that the National Institutes of Health complete a multi-year, multi-state study of Ewing sarcoma and related cancers so that we gather more data and hopefully find its cause.”
Rankin, a public health nurse for EHP, discussed health problems related to some chemicals used in fracking, including fatigue, breathing issues, coughing and skin rashes.
She said vulnerable populations including developing fetuses, the elderly and those with chronic conditions can be more at risk for health problems.
Rankin also addressed comments from doctors and the shale industry that there are no known environmental causes for Ewing Sarcoma.
“That’s a true statement, but that does not mean, unfortunately, that there are no environmental causes or triggers,” Rankin said. “When we say something causes cancer, it’s a little bit misleading. Even smoking doesn’t cause cancer in everyone that smokes. What it does increase is your risk of developing it.”
Rankin and the other panelists – Heaven Sensky, community organizer for the Center for Coalfield Justice, and Erica Jackson, community outreach and communications specialist for the FracTracker Alliance – also advised residents to use free radon test kits provided by Ortitay and O’Neal on request.
Canonsburg Mayor David Rhome, who did not attend the meeting, voiced displeasure that he and other local officials were not contacted about the event.
Rhome, who had another obligation, said he would have attended the meeting, but did not find out about it until Thursday morning.
Sensky said the groups made efforts to publicize the event, including sending out emails and canvassing houses, but did not directly contact local officials.
Among those attending Thursday’s meeting were David and Christine Barton, the parents of Mitchell Barton, who is battling Ewing Sarcoma, and Janice Blanock, whose son, Luke, lost a three-year battle with Ewing Sarcoma in 2016 at the age of 19.
Blanock asked about the status of the criminal investigation of shale gas production being conducted by State Attorney General Josh Shapiro, but the panel said no information can be provided until the investigation is completed.
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