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

Press Release


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.”



  • Lisa DePaoli

    Lisa (Coffield) DePaoli joined the CCJ staff in 2018 and is now our Communications Director. She grew up in rural Washington County, has family in both Washington and Greene Counties, and has always loved animals and spending time outdoors. A first-generation and nontraditional college student, her deep interest in human beings and ecology led her to earn a Ph.D. in anthropology from the University of Pittsburgh in 2012. She has worked on research projects and taught at the university level in the U.S. and in field schools in Latin America. The knowledge and experience she gained increased her concern for environmental and social justice issues, which she believes are best addressed at the local level, or from the "bottom up," including the voices of those who are most impacted. Lisa works to understand issues from the local to the global, seeks to make a positive difference, and loves to talk to people about what interests or concerns them. In her free time, she enjoys reading, spending time with her family, furkids, and friends, and walking in the woods with her dogs. Contact Lisa at lisa@centerforcoalfieldjustice.org.

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

  1. Are there not Contractual Obligations that govern these disclosures (study process, results updates, etc) and the timing? Tail is wagging the dog, ONCE AGAIN, as public health takes a back seat to politically motivated ignorance.

    1. Neither Pitt nor the DOH have made any type of public statement at all. From what we’re hearing, there may not be any announcement until the end of August. There have been months of delays, and people have been left in the dark, without transparency. They are contractually obligated to hold a community meeting. We know that the study looked at rare childhood cancer cases in our community that were diagnosed before 2020, so the results will only look at impacts that are now 3 years behind us, and pollution has only increased.

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