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Environmental Health Risks Study Results to be Released

The results of long-awaited studies looking into the health effects of hydraulic fracturing and other environmental risk factors and the incidence of childhood cancer cases in Southwestern Pennsylvania will be presented at a public meeting on Aug. 15.


Former Gov. Tom Wolf in 2019 directed the state Department of Health to undertake the research studies, and the department contracted with the University of Pittsburgh School of Public Health.


The first project was a study of childhood cancers, including Ewing Sarcoma, in response to concerns that have been raised about the number of young people with rare cancers in the across the region, including cases within the Canon-McMillan School District in Washington County. The study focused on finding out if historical exposure to various environmental risk factors, including unconventional natural gas well development, may be linked to childhood cancers in Southwestern Pennsylvania using existing data sources and parent interviews.


The second and third studies used information already available to find out if exposure to environmental risk factors is related to more severe cases of asthma or to increased occurrence of adverse birth outcomes in Southwestern Pennsylvania.


The meeting will be held from 6 to 7:30 p.m. Aug. 15 in the performance center at the Natali Student Center on the campus of PennWest California University. It will also be livestreamed, with details to be announced by the Department of Health at paenv.pitt.edu. There will also be an opportunity for online participants to submit questions.


The state Department of Health earlier in 2019 undertook a study into whether a “cancer cluster” exists but determined it does not. Families were critical of the DOH study, saying that incomplete information was used, and they pressed for further action. Local legislators also backed the call for more research. That led Wolf to direct the follow-up studies.


A 2019 investigation by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette determined that that six young people in the Canon-McMillan School District had been diagnosed with the rare bone cancer in the past decade, and that 27 cases were reported in a four-county area. Just about 250 cases of Ewing sarcoma are diagnosed each year in the entire country. The newspaper found a higher than expected incidence of other childhood cancers as well. However, whether those cancer cases can be linked to any environmental factors remains an unanswered question.

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