Kane's office to probe handling of fracking-related medical complaints

Posted: July 31, 2014

HARRISBURG - Activists said Tuesday that the Attorney General's Office has told them it will look into how state officials handled complaints by residents on the possible health impacts of natural gas drilling.

Sam Bernhardt, an organizer for the advocacy group Food & Water Watch, said an agent from the office's Environmental Crimes Unit asked him for contact information for individuals who contend the Department of Health never responded to their inquiries about symptoms they believed were related to natural gas drilling.

Attorney General's Office spokesman J.J. Abbott declined to comment.

The Health Department and the Department of Environmental Protection have come under fire in recent months by critics who believe they have not done enough to protect residents from potentially harmful effects of natural gas drilling.

The Auditor General's Office released a report last week saying the DEP was "unprepared to effectively administer laws and regulations to protect drinking water and unable to efficiently respond to citizen complaints" between 2009 and 2012.

StateImpact Pennsylvania, a reporting collaboration between the public radio stations WHYY and WITF, reported last month that retired Health Department employees had said the department failed to follow up on reports from some residents who expressed concerns about health related to natural gas drilling.

Instead of speaking to callers who said their problems were drilling-related - the normal procedure for handling such complaints - employees were told to relay callers' contact information to supervisors, according to the StateImpact article.

DEP and the Health Department said through a spokesperson that they have followed protocols in responding to complaints and make public health and safety a priority.

Bernhardt and Karen Feridun of the environmental group Berks Gas Truth compiled accounts from current and former state residents who have described a lack of follow-up from regulators.

Bernhardt and Feridun said they asked the Attorney General's Office to look into the complaints and, during a teleconference Tuesday, said the agency had agreed to speak with residents about their experiences.

Randy Moyer, a former truck driver for the natural gas industry, said during the teleconference Tuesday that he developed welts over two-thirds of his body after hauling water used in drilling and working at gas sites without protective gear.

He called the Health Department to ask for information about whether his work in the gas industry was related to these symptoms, but said he never got an answer.

Spokeswoman Holli Senior said the department legally cannot comment on specific cases.

"Saying the department is unresponsive is different than individuals not getting the answers they expect or think they should get," Senior said in an e-mail. "All Marcellus Shale-related health concerns are immediately reported to the Bureau of Epidemiology, as is the case for all environmental health concerns."

Craig Stevens, a Susquehanna County landowner who lives near a gas-drilling site said he noticed a metallic taste in his water after drilling began in his area.

He said he contacted the DEP and the Health Department, and each agency told him to contact the other.

DEP spokeswoman Morgan Wagner said the agency "investigates and responds to all complaints received, prioritizing based on what complaints are likely to cause serious impacts to public safety, human health or the environment."


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