Letter to Commissioner Shah

February 28th, 2011

Nirav R. Shah, M.D., M.P.H.
Commissioner, New York State Department of Health
Corning Tower
Empire State Plaza,
Albany, NY 12237

Dear Dr. Shah:

Congratulations on your appointment as Commissioner of New York State’s Department of Health. We wish you much success in this important position.

Physicians, researchers and other representatives of the undersigned organizations would appreciate the opportunity to meet with you on an issue we believe is the most pressing health issue confronting our State. This is the near-term prospect of massive unconventional gas drilling in upstate New York and its potential for significant adverse impacts on the health of citizens throughout the State. We would like to discuss this issue and the pivotal role that the DOH must play in the consideration and study of the health impacts of unconventional gas drilling.

The NYS Department of Environmental Conservation is in the process of revising its draft “Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement” (the “dSGEIS”) regarding the new technology of “high water volume horizontal fracturing” (“hydraulic fracturing”). The potential health impacts associated with the life-cycle of hydraulic fracturing were almost completely overlooked in the dSGEIS despite numerous reports of health-related concerns in other parts of the country where hydraulic fracturing is on-going (1). Over 13,000 comments were submitted to the DEC regarding the dSGEIS. Concerns about the health impacts of hydraulic fracturing were a recurrent theme as was the fact that no cumulative impact study has been undertaken. Our regional office of the EPA, for example, concluded that “potential impacts to human health and the environment…warrant further scientific and regulatory analysis,” expressing particular concern about local and regional air quality, water quality and radioactive materials disturbed during drilling (2).

It is estimated that tens of thousands of wells would be drilled in New York State (as well as in neighboring Pennsylvania). It is important to note that drilling proponents claim that gas extraction activities are afforded a unique exemption under State law from local zoning laws so as to be situated anywhere; as such, this industrial activity can be sited not just in industrial areas but also in residentially and agriculturally zoned areas, in our State’s watersheds and food sheds– literally in backyards and schoolyards.

Each well and each fracturing cycle requires 3-9 million gallons of fresh water mixed with thousands of pounds of chemicals (10,000 gallons of chemicals per million gallons of water), many of them known neurotoxins, carcinogens and endocrine disruptors. Estimates are that 50-95% of the fracking fluids are permanently left underground where, over time, they may migrate to contaminate ground water and aquifers (3). Fluids that are returned to the surface are contaminated with the fracturing chemicals and the “brines” from the gas bearing layers that may contain, among other things, naturally occurring radioactive substances and heavy metals (4). Dr. Theo Colborn, a renowned environmental health analyst, has listed many of the chemicals on the website of The Endocrine Disruption Exchange and provides evidence of the possible health effects of some of the chemicals that drillers/frackers have disclosed they are using (5). And just last month, investigators from a House Energy Committee announced that diesel fuel, containing benzene, toluene and other BTEX compounds, were extensively used in hydraulic fracturing operations in 19 states despite an industry pledge not to do so. The US Department of Health and Human Services and private research have recognized that the BTEX compounds can lead to brain, respiratory, and kidney damage (6).

Moreover, the processing of gas at the drill site and at compressor stations generates significant air pollution. Volatile organic compounds, BTEX, NOx, PAHs and H2S, and other HAPs are routinely released into the atmosphere. Al Armendariz, now EPA’s Region 6 Regional Administrator, documented the amounts of air polluting fugitive gases
from the hydraulic fracturing in the Barnett Shale near the Dallas/Fort Worth Area. (7). The health impacts of these emissions are potentially enormous and, of course, affect populations both near the extraction activity as well as “downwind” (1) (8).

Risks to human health are therefore present at every step of the gas extraction process. These include possible contamination of drinking water sources through surface spills, well casing failures, blowouts, and other events, migration of drilling and fracking fluids, during drilling or fracking or over time to ground water sources and aquifers through naturally occurring fissures, well blow-outs and well casing failures (9), noise and VAD (Vibro-Acoustic Disease) (10), radioactive contamination (11) and air contamination by emissions from venting, pipeline leaks, compressor stations and the intense truck traffic required over each well’s life-cycle (12).

Despite these known hazards, the oil and gas industry is exempt from important provisions of the Safe Drinking Water Act, the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, and other federal environmental laws. The absence of federal regulatory oversight has left it up to individual states to regulate this industry and adequately enforce those regulations.

In the opinion of many, shale gas extraction employing the current technology has the potential to compromise the
quality of our water and air for decades to come. It also has the potential to significantly and negatively impact the health of our citizens, especially those with respiratory ailments, the elderly, infants and children, pregnant women and their unborn children. Expressing concern, the Medical Society of the State of New York recently adopted a resolution calling for a moratorium on natural gas extraction using hydraulic fracturing until valid information is available to evaluate the process for its potential effects on human health and the environment (13). The NYS Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics supported a moratorium on gas drilling pending further studies (14). Dr. ChathamStephens of The Mt Sinai Children’s Environmental Health Center recently testified before the NYC Council expressing serious concerns that children’s health will be adversely impacted by gas drilling (15). And just this week, the Board of Trustees of Basset Medical Center issued a statement calling hydrofracking “a public health issue of the highest priority” and urging the DOH to work with the DEC to fulfill DOH”s “historic responsibility” to protect public health (16).

New Yorkers are fortunate that our leaders have pressed the “pause” button on the commencement of hydraulic fracturing activities. Governor Paterson ordered a SGEIS prior to the permitting of hydraulic fracturing and, before leaving office, issued Executive Order 41 ordering the DEC to revise the draft SGEIS and hold a second public comment period. Governor Cuomo signed a continuation of this important order. Yet, to our knowledge, the DOH has not been an involved agency of any significance on this matter.

We are now at a crossroads –to include a rigorous discussion and investigation of the public health issues as they will be affected by unconventional natural gas extraction or face the potential consequences for years and decades to come. We believe that DOH must be an essential player in this process. Only the DOH has the expertise–and mandate–to assure that public health is not endangered by the commencement of hydraulic fracturing in New York. The DOH was also delegated primary enforcement responsibility for the Safe Drinking Water Act by EPA. We therefore urge the DOH to secure co-lead status with the DEC on the dSGEIS, as the EPA recommended, and to consider other steps that can be taken to evaluate the risks to public health prior to the State permitting hydraulic fracturing.

Footnoted are several papers that we believe will be of interest. Representatives of the health community would like to schedule a meeting with you at your earliest convenience to discuss this matter further. Please contact Dr. Larysa Dyrszka if you have any further questions at this time as well as to schedule the aforementioned meeting.

Thank you for your consideration. We look forward to your response.

Sincerely,

Medical and Scientific Societies, Organizations and Professionals

Allied Pediatrics of New York, LLC, Gary Mirkin, MD, CEO (75+ pediatricians), Long Island/Queens, NY
American Academy of Pediatrics District II
Donna Bacchi, MD, MPH, Chair, Department of Public Health and Preventive Medicine, Director, CNYMPH Program, SUNY Upstate Medical University
Michelle Bamberger, MS, DVM, Veterinarian, Ithaca, NY
Claire L. Barnett, MBA, Founder and Executive Director, Healthy Schools Network, Inc
Paul Bermanzohn, MD, Ulster County, NY
Ronald Bishop, PhD, CHO, State University of New York at Oneonta
Sarah Buckley, RN, critical care nurse, founder of Wales POWR (Protecting Our Water Rights)
Broome County Medical Society
Theo Colborn, PhD, President, The Endocrine Disruption Exchange
Cortland County Board of Health
Daria Barrett Crittenden, MD, New York, NY
Nicholas Cunningham, MD, Dr P.H., Pediatrician and Public Health Physician, Springfield, NY
Douglas DeLong, MD, Chief, Division of General Internal Medicine, Bassett Healthcare Network
Larysa Dyrszka, MD, Pediatrician, Bethel, NY
Joan C. Farber, PhD, clinical psychologist (retired), New York, NY
Clare Fewtrell, D.Phil., Associate Professor of Pharmacology, College of Veterinary Medicine, Cornell University
Donna Flayhan, PhD, Director, The Lower Manhattan Public Health Project; Professor, State University of NY at New Paltz
Amy E. Freeth, MD, Attending, Department of Endocrinology; Medical Director, Comprehensive Diabetes Program; Research Scientist, Bassett Healthcare Network, Cooperstown, NY
Sueane Hemmer Goodreau, ND, RN, CFNP, Ithaca, NY
David Gould, MD, MBA, New York, NY
Eileen Hoffman, MD, FACP, Clinical Associate Professor of Medicine, NYU School of Medicine
Robert W. Howarth, PhD, The David R. Atkinson Professor of Ecology and Environmental Biology at Cornell University
Susan Hyman, MD, FAAP, Developmental Pediatrician, Rochester, NY
Anthony R. Ingraffea, PhD, PE, Dwight C. Baum Professor of Engineering; Weiss Presidential Teaching Fellow, Cornell University
Kenneth Jaffe, MD, Slope Farms, Meredith, NY
William Klepack, MD, Dryden Family Medicine, Dryden, NY
Bruce G. Kornreich, DVM, PhD, DACVIM (Cardiology), Senior Research Associate, Department of Clinical Sciences, NYS College of Veterinary Medicine, Cornell University
Adam Law, MD, Endocrinologist, Ithaca, NY
Robin R. Leger, RN, MS, PhD
Eric London, MD, Psychiatrist and Autism Researcher, Harris, NY
Judith Maidenbaum, PhD, Psychoanalyst, New York, NY
Mary Menapace, RN, Women’s Services, Upstate Medical University, Syracuse, NY
Mt. Sinai Global Health Training Center, Natasha Anushri Anandaraja, MD, MPH, Director
Mt. Sinai School of Medicine Children’s Environmental Health Center, Philip Landrigan, MD, MSc, Director; Ethel H. Wise Professor and Chairman, Department of Preventive Medicine; Professor of Pediatrics; Dean for Global Health Bola Omotosho, MD, Bronx, NY
Robert E. Oswald, PhD, Professor of Molecular Medicine, Cornell University
Vincent M. Pedre III, MD, Integrative & Preventive Medicine; Medical Director, Pedre Integrative Health; Clinical Instructor, Mount Sinai School of Medicine
Nina Pesante, MD, Vestal, NY
Peter Rostenberg, MD, Public Health Director, retired; Steering Committee, Highland Coalition
Stanley N. Salthe, PhD, Professor Emeritus Biology, City University of New York; Deposit, NY
William R. Sawyer, PhD, D-ABFM, D-ABFE, TCAS Toxicology Consultants and Assessment Specialists, LLC, Skaneateles, NY
Stephen S. Schneider, DDS, Oral & Maxillofacial Surgeon, Deposit, NY
Nadia Shmigel, LCSW, New York, NY
Ted Schettler, MD, MPH, Science and Environmental Health Network
Kenneth R. Spaeth, MD, MPH, Director, Occupational and Environmental Medicine Center; Director of Education, Department of Population Health, North Shore University Hospital, Hofstra School of Medicine, NY
Sandra Steingraber, PhD, Ithaca College, Ithaca, NY
Jeanne Mager Stellman, PhD, Professor Emerita & Special Lecturer, Mailman School of Public Health, Columbia University; Professor of Environmental & Occupational Health Sciences and Professor of Neurology, SUNY-Downstate Medical Center
Daniel Thau Teitelbaum, MD, Colorado
Tompkins County Medical Society
Gregory A. Weiland, PhD, Associate Professor of Pharmacology, Department of Molecular Medicine, College of Veterinary Medicine, Cornell University
Wayne G. Whitmore, MD, FACS, New York, NY
Nena J. Winand, DVM, PhD, Groton, NY
World Information Transfer, Inc, Dr. Christine K. Durbak, Chair and CEO

Community and Environmental Organizations

Advocates for Cherry Valley, Inc. (Lynne Marsh)
Advocates for Springfield (Harry Levine)
Binghamton Regional Sustainability Coalition (Chris W. Burger)
Catskill Citizens for Safe Energy (Bruce Ferguson)
Catskill Mountainkeeper (Kathleen Nolan, M.D., MSL)
Chenango Community Action for Renewable Energy (Erin Heaton)
Chenango Delaware Otsego Gas Drilling Opposition Group
Citizens Energy and Economics Council of Delaware County
Coalition to Protect New York (Jack Ossant and Kate Bartholomew)
Community Environmental Defense Council, Inc. (David Slottje, J.D.)
Concerned Citizens of Ulysses (Michelle Bamberger)
Croton Watershed Clean Water Coalition, Inc. (Fay Muir)
Damascus Citizens for Sustainability (Barbara Arrindell)
Delaware Action Group (Caroline Martin)
Delaware Riverkeeper Network (Tracy Carluccio)
Earthworks Oil & Gas Accountability Project (Nadia Steinzor)
Food & Water Watch (Eric Weltman)
Frack Action (Claire Sandberg)
Frack Action Buffalo (Patricia Carson)
Friends of Vestal (Sue Rapp)
Gas Drilling Awareness Coalition (Tom Juinta, D.P.M.)
Gas Drilling Awareness for Cortland County (Sheila Cohen, Ed.D.)
Highland Concerned Citizens (Debra Conway)
Homestead School Green Power Alliance (Peter Comstock)
Landowners Against Natural-gas Drilling (Teresa Winchester)
Lexington Cooperative Market–Buffalo (Tim Bartlett)
Lumberland Concerned Citizens (Peter Comstock)
Marcellus Accountability Project for Tompkins County (Bill and Sandy Podulka)
Neighbors of the Onondaga Nation (Jack Ramsden)
New York Residents Against Drilling (Kevin Millar)
Northeast Organic Farming Association of New York (Lea Kone)
NYH2O (Joe Levine)
Otisco Lake Preservation Association (Anita Williams)
Otsego County Conservation Association (Martha Clarvoe)
Otsego 2000 (Nicole Dillingham, J.D.)
Park Slope Food Coop (Jess Robinson)
People for a Healthy Environment, Inc. (Frank Patterson)
Residents Opposing Unsafe Shale-Gas Extraction (Bill Podulka)
Sierra Club Atlantic Chapter (Rachel Treichler, J.D.)
Skaneateles Lake Association (Mary Menapace)
Sullivan Alliance for Sustainable Development (Dick Riesling)
Sullivan Area Citizens for Responsible Energy Development (Karen London, J.D.)
Sustainable Otsego (Ron Bishop, Ph.D., CHO)
The Basha Kill Area Association, Inc. (Paula Medley)The Committee to Preserve the Finger Lakes (Melanie Steinberg)
The Finger Lakes Group of the Atlantic Chapter of the Sierra Club (Kate Bartholomew)
Tioga Peace and Justice (Cecile Lawrence, J.D., Ph.D.)
United for Action (Owen Crowley)

Notes:

  1. Witter power point presentation, and Witter white paper 2010 Health Impact Assessment for Battlement Mesa, Garfield County, Colorado (2010) .
  2. Comment letter of the EPA, Region 2, dated December 30, 2009 to NYSDEC Division of Mineral Resources and Otsego 2000 2010 comments to the EPA.
  3. “Final Impact Assessment Report: Impact Assessment of Natural Gas Production in NYC Watershed,” Hazen and Sawyer Environmental Engineers and Scientists, December 2009, page 57; and Statement of James L. Northrup, former ARCO Planning Manager, to Otsego County Board (July 21, 2010); and Power point by Professor Tony Ingraffea from http://www.otsego2000.org/ The Facts about Shale Gas Drilling in New York State Unatego, NY, 10/6/2010 and Chemical and Biological Risk Assessment of Natural Gas Extraction in New York by Ron Bishop, SUNY Oneonta and Sustainable Otsego
  4. http://un-naturalgas.org/resources_and_documents.htm -> DEC’s dSGEIS download page see chapter 5 (chemicals) and appendix 13 (NORMs) and http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/27/us/27gas.html?_r=1&hp with additional references here http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2011/02/27/us/natural-gas-documents-1-intro.html?ref=us
  5. http://endocrinedisruption.com/chemicals.multistate.php (2011) and http://endocrinedisruption.com/files/NaturalGasManuscriptPDF09_13_10.pdf Video also available at www.endocrinedisruption.com.
  6. http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/01/business/energy-environment/01gas.html?src=me&ref=business; industry reply: http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/business/energy/7406933.htmlhttp://hinchey.house.gov/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=1556:hinchey-holt-urge-drbcto-suspend-hydrofracking-rulemaking-process&catid=71:2011-press-releases and this about the investigation: http://democrats.energycommerce.house.gov/index.php?q=news/waxman-markey-and-degetteinvestigation-finds-continued-use-of-diesel-in-hydraulic-fracturing-f
  7. Armendariz, A. Emissions from Natural Gas Production in the Barnett Shale Area and Opportunities for Cost Effective Improvements (January 26, 2009).
  8. London, E. Comments to the EPA regarding the impacts of toxic emissions from natural gas extraction activities September 27, 2010.
  9. see “exploratory” well papers http://www.damascuscitizens.org/DRBC-HEARING.html and http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=wastewater-sediment-natural-gas-mckeesport-sewage and http://www.vanityfair.com/business/features/2010/06/fracking-in-pennsylvania-201006 and from the University of Pittsburgh School of Public Health http://www.fractracker.org/2010/09/water-wellcontamination-studies.html and NRDC’s Amy Mall’s report on cases of water contamination http://switchboard.nrdc.org/blogs/amall/incidents_where_hydraulic_frac.html
  10. http://teeic.anl.gov/er/oilgas/impact/drilldev/index.cfm and comments to the NYS DEC on the scoping of the dSGEIS 12/2/2008 by Kristina Turechek and a medical article on noise and VAD
  11. USGS and NORMs and a NYSDOH commentary on the dSGEIS of 7/21/2009 from http://63.134.196.109/documents/10sep28_Otsego2000EPACommentsFINAL.pdf and Resnikoff et al’s report on Radioactivity in the Marcellus Shale of 5/19/2010 and a Scientific American article on radioactivity in wastewater 11/9/2009 and Radioactive Waste in Horizontal Hydrofracking by James L. “Chip” Northrup, September 20, 2010 from http://www.otsego2000.org and comments by the NYS Conference of Environmental Health Directors on SGEIS and http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/27/us/27gas.html?_r=1&hp with additional references here, and an article by David Lewis with additional embedded links
  12. Dr Eric London’s comments to the EPA and Dr Robert Howarth’s article on GHG Emissions from Nov 2010 and updated Jan.26, 2011 and a recent (2010) technical paper from the EPA on GHG emissions from natural gas development and a report on H2S emissions health and an article from the San Antonio Current on health issues from gas emissions and this about formaldehyde in air emissions in Texas from HARC.edu
  13. http://gdacc.wordpress.com/2010/12/10/new-york-state-medical-societies-call-for-moratorium
  14. NYS AAP on a moratorium, see http://gdacc.wordpress.com/medical-professionals-information/
  15. Mt Sinai Children’s Environmental Health Center comments to the EPA
  16. http://www.damascuscitizens.org/BASSETT_MEDICAL_CENTER_BOARD_OF_TRUSTEES_STATEMENT.pdf