Registry will study health impact from living near shale gas wells




The Southwest Pennsylvania Environmental Health Project has opened a public health registry aimed at tracking and eventually analyzing the impacts of shale gas development on people living near wells, impoundments, compressor stations and pipelines.

The voluntary registry is designed to collect data that physicians and researchers can use to measure and better understand the public health impacts of shale gas development, said Jill Kriesky, associate director of the Environmental Health Project in McMurray.

“We’re asking questions about demographics, how close a participant lives to an unconventional oil or gas site, what exposures they’ve had through air and water, and what health symptoms they have or had and how closely those can be associated with the shale gas development activity,” Ms. Kriesky said. “We hope to get a better idea about the influence of proximity and timing to their conditions.”

The registry, which can be accessed via computer but not cell phone, officially opened Friday after a “soft launch” in January. Anyone living, working or going to school within five miles of a shale gas development site, is invited to visit the online registry.

Michael Kelly, an Environmental Health Project spokesman, said many recent health studies have found a variety of health risks related to proximity to unconventional shale gas development sites, including low birth weights, increased asthma, stress, specific cancers, skin rashes and nosebleeds.

“The point is that the vast majority of independent science is looking at [shale gas development] and saying something’s not good there. We need to know more,” Mr. Kelly said. “The findings of this registry will allow the health care community to be more informed about what problems people are experiencing when they walk into their offices. It will give the doctors some idea of what they should be looking for.”

He said such health registries are accepted tools for tracking many diseases and health problems, and informing the public about risks.

“There are 25,000 people living in Washington County alone who reside near enough to oil and gas sites to be at risk. When you have so many people at risk, not knowing is not acceptable,” he said. “We should all know what the risks are at a half-mile away, a mile away, two miles away, and be able to protect ourselves.”

In an email response to a question about the new registry, the Marcellus Shale Coalition cited reports that increased use of natural gas has led to “significant improvement in our nation’s air quality as well as overall public health.”

The statement, attributed to Erica Clayton Wright, a spokeswoman for the industry trade organization, also questioned the claims of some environmental group research, but added, “we are fully committed to objective fact-based research and best practices to protect the health and safety of the communities where we’re privileged to operate.”

Colorado started a limited health tracking registry in November. And after years of delay, the state Department of Health’s division of Environmental Health Epidemiology recently started its own “Unconventional Oil and Natural Gas Drilling Health Complaints Registry,” to field calls from gas field citizens’ health-related concerned about shale gas development.

Like the new Environmental Health Project registry, the Pennsylvania and Colorado registries are voluntary and all participant information will be kept confidential.

Unlike the state-run registries, the Health Project registry, established in a partnership with Genetic Alliance, a 30-year-old nonprofit health advocacy organization based in Washington, D.C., will eventually have a national scope. Its “de-identified data, findings and patterns of health impacts will be shared with researchers, physicians and those members of the public participating in the registry.

“Our goal is to, within six months, be reporting back to our registry participants about what health impact patterns we’re seeing, the number of people reporting symptoms and where they are located in relation to the shale gas development,” Ms. Kriesky said.

Registry sign-up is at http://www.environmentalhealthproject.org/health-effect-registry.

Don Hopey: dhopey@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1983, or on Twitter @donhopey.

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