2011-07-14 / Local & State

Pa. Study To Measure Possible Health Impacts

SCRANTON, Pa. (AP) – The state will measure baseline public health conditions in northeastern Pennsylvania to help track any future health impact from Marcellus Shale drilling.

A $75,000 study funded by the state Department of Public Welfare and conducted by researchers with the Northeast Regional Cancer Institute will look at the current health status of about 500 residents in a 10-county region where drilling is happening or likely to begin, The Times-Tribune newspaper in Scranton reported Friday. The region also includes areas where drilling is unlikely, so the researchers can compare data.

“Gas drilling is new for us up here,’’ said Dr. Samuel Lesko, the director of research and medical director at the Scranton-based institute. “The health consequences of that, if any, are really not known.’’

“We’re not surprised that there should be some community concern about potential adverse consequences. We’ve all heard about contaminated wells, spills of fracking fluid, heavy trucks on highways,’’ Lesko said. “But unless we’re looking at data in an objective way, we won’t have a true measure of whether those concerns are justified.’’

The institute proposes to look at a broad range of both chronic and acute health conditions, including those mentioned during interviews to be conducted by researchers in drilling communities where impact is feared or suspected.

The study will involve about 50 adults in each of the 10 counties – Bradford, Lackawanna, Luzerne, Lycoming, Pike, Sullivan, Susquehanna, Tioga, Wayne and Wyoming. Subjects will provide medical and family history, biographical information and biologic samples, like blood tests.

Preliminary results are expected by June 2012.

State Sen. John Blake, a Democrat from Archbald who helped secure the funding, said the research will begin to fill a gap in the state’s knowledge of gas- exploration’s short- and long-term impact.

The cancer institute emphasized that residents’ willingness to participate in the study is crucial to its success.

“We need the cooperation of the community,’’ Lesko said. “If someone is invited to participate in the study, I hope they seriously consider doing it, for themselves, for the public health of their community and also, potentially, for future generations.’’

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