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Statement on Gas Drilling and Hydrofracking

The Board of Directors of the Tompkins County Medical Society has issued a statement of concern regarding hydrofracking and public health.

Statement by the Board of Directors of the Tompkins County Medical Society November 16, 2011

The Tompkins County Medical Society is concerned about the potential health effects of unconventional gas drilling (hydrofracking). Our concerns are based on the fact that the long term health effects are incompletely understood.

In 2010, the Society passed a resolution supporting a continued moratorium on hydrofracking in New York State until more is understood about potential health impacts of the process. Other county medical societies and the Medical Society of the State of New York have passed similar resolutions.

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) is currently in the process of developing regulations for high volume hydraulic fracturing. As part of this process, on September 7, 2011, the DEC released the Draft Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement (DSGEIS). On July 1, 2011, DEC Commissioner Joseph Martens announced the appointment of a Hydraulic Fracturing Advisory Panel. None of the 12 members of the panel is a physician or public health professional.

Chapter VI of the draft addresses potential environmental impacts. These include, among others, degradation of air quality and contamination of water supplies. In Section 6.1.3,  "the Department concludes high-volume hydraulic fracturing operations within Primary and Principal aquifers pose the risk of causing significant adverse impacts to water resources……standard mitigation measures may only partially mitigate such impacts. Such partial mitigation would be unacceptable due to the potential consequences posed by such impacts."

The effects on human health posed by such environmental impacts are not addressed in the document.

The Tompkins Count Medical Society believes that based on currently available information, there is reasonable cause for concern regarding the potential health effects of hydrofracking, both in the short term as gas wells are developed, and in the longer term as the production process continues. We therefore make the following recommendations:

1-There should be physicians and public health professionals on the DEC Advisory Panel.

2-There should be a separate, comprehensive Health Impact Assessment of hydrofracking in New York State, conducted by an independent organization, such as the Public Health department of a major academic medical center.

3-The temporary moratorium on hydrofracking should continue until the Health Impact Assessment is completed.

New York has experienced public health issues related to industrial contamination in the past. The Love Canal and the PCBs in the bottom of the Hudson River come to mind as examples. Let us learn from those lessons- it is far safer and less costly to prevent a public health disaster, than to try to clean one up after the fact.

The public comment period on the draft Environmental Impact Statement ends December 12, 2011. We encourage people to go to http://www.dec.ny.gov/energy/75370.html to read the DSGEIS and to find a link to submit comments.

Gerald Zupruk, MD, President
Tompkins County Medical Society Board of Directors

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