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June 20, 2011

Pennsylvania’s top health official says the state needs to create a health registry to track illnesses caused by natural gas drilling.

In response to growing concern and public outcry about the way natural gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale affects the health of residents, Secretary of Health Eli Avila told Lieutenant Governor Cawley and the Marcellus Shale Advisory Commission the state needs to take steps to address those concerns.

“In order to refute or verify claims that public health is being impacted by drilling in the Marcellus Shale, there must be a comprehensive and scientific approach to evaluating over time health conditions of individuals who live in close proximity to a drilling site or are occupationally exposed,” Avila told the Commission.

Avila, a doctor and attorney with experience in environmental remediation, says the Department of Health needs:

  • The power to investigate complaints by citizens, health care providers and public officials in a timely and thorough manner.
  • To routinely evaluate and assess environmental and clinical data, including the sampling of water, air, wildlife and other indicators of environmental health.
  • To educate health care providers about signs and symptoms of environmental related heath conditions and about proper testing for such illnesses, including chemical and radiation testing.
  • To have health care providers share patient testing with the Department of Health.
  • To educate the public about the chemicals used in the drilling process and any potential to cause illnesses.
  • To create a health registry to track drilling related health conditions.

“While it is critical that the Department investigates concerns, collects and assesses environmental and clinical data and educates health care providers and the general public, the most timely and important initiative that the Department can undertake is the creation of a population-based health registry,” Avila said.

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