140 Residents Attended Last Week’s Virtual Town Hall on the PA Department of Health’s Response to Local Cancer Crisis

Posted Dec 8, 2020, by Heaven Sensky

Screenshot of the November 19th Virtual Town Hall event

Screenshot of the November 19th Virtual Town Hall event

On November 22, 2019, Governor Tom Wolf announced that the state would commit $3 million to study the health impacts of fracking in Southwestern Pennsylvania communities after reports showed an alarming number of children in our area were diagnosed with rare childhood cancers. Since then, there have been no public announcements for an entire year. In June 2020, Physicians for Social Responsibility Pennsylvania and the Southwest Pennsylvania Environmental Health Project had a virtual meeting with Health Secretary Rachel Levine and Pennsylvania Department of Health (PA DOH) staff members. This meeting was originally requested in January and was delayed because of the DOH’s focus on the pandemic. During the correspondence between the request in January and the June meeting, the public health advocacy groups tried to establish an Investigations Process Overview Panel. The DOH refused to accept this request for systematic transparency and has yet to provide an alternative.

In October, public health advocates provided an invitation to Secretary Rachel Levine and the DOH staff members to participate in a town hall regarding the state’s investigation of the health impacts of fracking. Community members in southwestern Pennsylvania are not receiving a response when they reach out to the DOH, nor are public health advocacy groups.

Coalfield Justice, Mountain Watershed Association, and Physicians for Social Responsibility partnered to present a virtual town hall to community members to give them a much-needed update on the state of the investigation promised to our communities by the Governors’ office. Over 140 people attended.

This town hall served as an outreach tool to educate and organize community members to better understand the health impacts of unconventional oil and gas. The information also related how radioactive waste produced by unconventional gas drilling is largely unregulated and how it may be contributing to the increased rates of bone cancers in our area. As it stands, researchers cannot adequately access the components of oil and gas waste as it is considered proprietary knowledge, or a “trade secret.” What we do not know can hurt us.

In the few responses that have been received from the DOH, the Department has stated that officials have not heard directly from community members. Because of this, we are calling on concerned community members to share your stories and concerns with DOH.

You can take action to protect our communities by signing this petition to remove the loophole that allows oil and gas operators to avoid hazardous waste protocols in disposing of their waste material.

I am so grateful to all of the 140 people who viewed the event, and I want to reiterate that I am here to serve you as you navigate this difficult information. I am available to all of you to discuss this, and whatever I may not be able to answer, I will do my best to connect you to someone who can. I genuinely believe in the power of collective action, and I am prepared to continue working towards protecting our communities from harm. Each of your voices matter, and together we can make a difference.

You can learn more by contacting me, Heaven Sensky, at 724-350-4803 or heaven@centerforcoalfieldjustice.org.

Below is the recording of the event –



  • Heaven Sensky

    Heaven Lee Sensky (she/her) is the Organizing Director with the Center for Coalfield Justice. She primarily serves Washington and Greene Counties on issues of Oil and Gas development and provides support for our organizing team. Heaven has been with CCJ for 4 years, working on a variety of campaigns serving impacted community members including advocacy around the prevalence of rare childhood cancers, the impacts of waste generated and disposed of by the oil and gas industry, and advocating for harm reduction in relation to the opioid epidemic. CCJ is organizing frontline residents through grassroots efforts to advocate for healthy communities with thriving economies. Heaven was born and raised on a small farm in Washington County where her family has resided for 5 generations. She is a first-generation college student and a graduate of American University (Washington, D.C.) with a bachelor’s degree in Communications, Law Studies, Economics, and Government. Before joining team CCJ, Heaven interned in the United States Senate and for the office of Barack and Michelle Obama. She lives with her husband Casey and her dog Olive on her family farm. Contact Heaven at heaven@centerforcoalfieldjustice.org.

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