More than a hundred groups and hundreds of individuals from Pennsylvania have signed onto a letter to the state’s governor, calling for an official investigation into recent reports of rare cancers in counties heavily impacted by shale gas development over the last decade. The letter also calls for the Governor Tom Wolf to suspend all gas drilling permits until the investigation shows that fracking is not the cause of what appears to be an emerging public health crisis.

The letter was prompted by an investigation by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, which documented at least 46 children in four counties in southwest Pennsylvania who have suffered from rare forms of cancer since 2008-- including at least 27 cases of Ewing sarcoma, a form of bone cancer that only affects between 200 and 250 people across the entire country each year.

Thousands of sites

Approximately 10,097 active wells that involve hydraulic fracturing are in operation in the state of Pennsylvania. Under state regulations, fracking operators must disclose chemicals used during operations - unless they consider a chemical or chemical combination to be a trade secret. In that case, they are allowed to withhold these chemicals from public disclosure to protect themselves from competitors.

"The Wolf administration's approach to the impacts of shale gas development has been 'If you don't want to see something, don't look,'" said Better Path Coalition co-founder Karen Feridun. "There's no better evidence of that than the fact that it took reporters to identify 46 children diagnosed with rare cancers in just four counties at the epicenter of the shale gas boom."

Industry denies a link

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette notes that the fracking industry has “vigorously denied” that there is any link between fracking operations and human health problems, and quotes Marcellus Shale Coalition President David Spigelmyer as saying that “some activists choose to sensationalize tragedy” and “make inflammatory suggestions” that contradict scientific and medical data.

The letter to Wolf was signed by five state representatives—Elizabeth Fiedler, Danielle Friel Otten, Sara Innamorato, Summer Lee and Chris Rabb—and organizations including, Berks Gas Truth, Better Path Coalition, Delaware Riverkeeper Network, Food & Water Watch, Frack Action, Physicians for Social Responsibility and Southwest Environmental Health Project.

From the letter: “Scientific evidence about the harmful toxic chemicals used in gas drilling and fracking activities strongly suggest a connection. Many of the chemicals used in these activities are known carcinogens and many pose a particularly high risk to children and at-risk populations. Numerous peer-reviewed public health studies have found gas drilling and fracking activities associated with low birth weight babies, birth defects, asthma and other respiratory issues, increased rates of hospitalization, and various other health impacts.

“This is a public health crisis that requires immediate and significant action."

The letter was previewed in a report in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.