Press Release: Parents Still Left in the Dark about Childhood Cancer Studies, Demand Update from Pitt and the DOH

Posted May 22, 2023, by Lisa DePaoli



May 18, 2023

Lisa DePaoli, Communications Manager, Center for Coalfield Justice, 724-229-3550, lisa@centerforcoalfieldjustice.org

Ned Ketyer, M.D., F.A.A.P., President, Physicians for Social Responsibility Pennsylvania, 724-255-7440, ned@psrpa.org

Scott Smith, Communications Manager, Environmental Health Project, 412-600-0738, ssmith@environmentalhealthproject.org



Questions persist after months of delays and silence on the status of taxpayer-funded studies into ties between oil & gas and public health

Southwestern PAIn order to make the best decisions for their families, residents of Southwestern Pennsylvania need information. Community members, however, have yet to hear directly from either the University of Pittsburgh or the Pennsylvania Department of Health (PA DOH) since studies were announced investigating the link in Southwestern PA between fracking and high rates of rare childhood cancers as well as acute conditions, such as asthma and birth outcomes.

The studies cover the entirety of the Southwestern Pennsylvania Region, including Allegheny County, Armstrong County, Beaver County, Butler County, Fayette County, Greene County, Washington County, and Westmoreland County.

The Center for Coalfield Justice, Environmental Health Project, Mountain Watershed Association, Physicians for Social Responsibility Pennsylvania, and FracTracker Alliance have launched a petition calling on the PA DOH and researchers from the University of Pittsburgh School of Public Health to provide an update and fulfill their obligations to explain the study process, report the results of the studies to the public if they are available, and take questions from community members. More than 265 people have so far signed the petition.

“It is reasonable for community residents and pediatricians like me to be concerned that fracking may be to blame for the spike in rare childhood cancers and other health impacts in  Southwestern Pennsylvania,” said Dr. Ned Ketyer, President of Physicians for Social Responsibility Pennsylvania. “Dozens of scientific and medical studies support those concerns. Community members and their health providers are demanding answers. Unfortunately, the decision by the PA DOH and the University of Pittsburgh to continue their lack of transparency effectively silences those important voices and keeps the community in the dark.”

Over three years ago, a group of parents whose children have been affected by rare cancers, including Ewing sarcoma, asked the PA DOH to investigate childhood cancers being diagnosed at disproportionately high rates in Southwestern Pennsylvania, where shale gas drilling, fracking, and infrastructure buildout have occurred.

In 2019, Pennsylvania Governor Wolf’s administration allocated $3 million for studies to explore the potential health effects of the shale gas industry, taking action after months of impassioned pleas by the families of childhood cancer patients who live in the most heavily drilled region of the state. Those three studies, called the PA Health and Environment Studies, have been underway for two years.

In early October 2022, the PA DOH and the University of Pittsburgh publicly backed out of a public forum to discuss the progress and process of the studies. Neither the agency or the university have communicated with the public since.

“Parents deserve to hear from these institutions,” said Heaven Sensky, Organizing Director at the Center for Coalfield Justice. “These agencies and research institutions are not even doing the bare minimum to provide information to grieving parents and concerned community members. We all need to work together to ensure our children grow up free from preventable disease. More young people are being diagnosed with rare cancers in the studied communities, all the while the state continues to grant permits for pollution-emitting fossil fuel projects. It is urgent that the Department issue an update as soon as possible.”

Lois Bower-Bjornson, impacted resident of Washington County and Southwestern Pennsylvania Field Organizer with Clean Air Council, said, “As a mother of four living surrounded by fracking with children who experience health impacts, this issue is highly concerning and detrimental to our children’s health and our community. Since the onset of fracking, and due to the concerns that I am seeing in my community and others, I am hosting Frackland Tours. These tours give people firsthand accounts of what it’s like to live and grow up in the shale fields of Southwestern Pennsylvania.”

“There is no doubt that residents living in proximity to shale gas development face a host of potential health issues,” said Makenzie White, Public Health Manager at the Environmental Health Project. “Studies show that shale gas operations raise the risk of respiratory illnesses like asthma, heart disease and heart attacks, birth defects and preterm deliveries, mental health problems, and cancer. It’s essential that we give impacted residents the tools they need to make informed decisions about their family’s health.”


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