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Anti-fracking health experts question Cuomo


A group of public health experts are questioning whether Governor Cuomo’s health officials can do a credible job reviewing a health study on fracking, saying independent reviewers would be a better choice.

Governor Cuomo’s Health Commissioner is conducting a health impact review on whether hydro fracking can be done safely in New York.

According to a statement issued last month by Cuomo’s environmental commissioner, Health Commissioner Dr. Nirav Shah will appoint some outside experts and then review health impact data collected by the governor’s environmental agency. Since then, there’s been no new details released.

Over 50 doctors, nurses and scientists in New York have signed a letter to Governor Cuomo. They’re asking for more information and questioning whether the governor’s health department can objectively review the health information.

Dr. David Carpenter is Director of The Institute for Health and the Environment at SUNY’s School of Public Health.Carpenter, who used to work at the state health department in the 1980’s, says the agency has many competent health experts, but he says working for a government that also has an agenda may compromise the work.

“The Health Department is a political body, it reports to the governor,” said Carpenter. “It is not independent.”

He says he experienced political pressure when he directed the Health Department’s laboratories during the Carey Administration. He says they wanted to do a study of radon in homes, but Governor Carey was promoting insulation for energy efficiency.

“We were not allowed to study what’s clearly a health hazard,” he said.

Carpenter worries that with all the pressures from the gas drilling industry to allow fracking, as well as the state’s need for economic development, it might be hard for the governor’s health department to remain objective.

Governor Cuomo has said repeatedly that his administration is reviewing all of the “science and facts” about fracking, and taking all the time it needs to make an unbiased decision about whether to issue permits for drilling. Speaking earlier in the week, the governor defended the health department’s review of the environmental agency’s health impact data, saying it will be comprehensive.

“It will be a more thorough review,” Cuomo said.

Dr. Kathy Nolan, an independent bioethicist in the Catskill Mountains, maintains that an independent health impact study that looks at more recent data might end the debate for once and for all.

“I think the information when brought forward and reviewed carefully, fully and comprehensively, would stop this process,” Nolan said.

The health experts who oppose fracking say since Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Joe Martens issued his statement on September 20th, there’s been no information about exactly what kind of data has been collected by the environmental agency, and they say they’d like more transparency.

The Departments of Environmental Conservation and Health did not act on a request to provide more details about the health study. In his statement, Commissioner Martens said he was rejecting calls for an outside health analysis, saying independent analysts may have their own conflicts of interest.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau Chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 public radio stations in New York State. WBFO listeners are accustomed to hearing DeWitt’s insightful coverage throughout the day, including expanded reports on Morning Edition.