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

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. However, to date, the Department of Health has indicated that the industry’s radioactive waste stream would not be included in their investigation of the health impacts of fracking.

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, encouraging them to study the waste streams of oil and gas development, not just well pads.

You can take action to protect our communities by signing onto our action network campaign to encourage the Department of Health to take action in investigating the waste stream of oil and gas operations. In addition, you can take action 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 Lee Sensky (She/her) is the Organizing Director with CCJ. She primarily serves Washington County and issues of Oil and Gas development. Her campaigns include solving the local childhood cancer crisis, advocating for harm reduction in relation to the opioid epidemic, and the intersections of racial and environmental justice. She was born and raised on a small farm right here in Washington County. 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. She also received formal education in Women's, Gender and Sexuality Studies. Before joining team CCJ, Heaven interned in the United States Senate and for the office of Barack and Michelle Obama. She lives with her fiancé Casey and her dog Olive on her family farm.

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