Across the 15 years in which the gas industry has made Pennsylvania the nation’s second-largest producer, the state Legislature has taken extraordinary steps to give the industry its way. At different times, lawmakers have reduced the state’s regulatory capability, overriden local zoning, granted eminent domain for pipelines, subsidized markets for gas with massive tax breaks, refused to establish a fair tax structure, and so on.

Remarkably, that service to the industry even has included prohibitions against studying the industry’s impact on public health, despite pleas from the health care community and people in drilling-affected regions to assess that impact.

Now the Wolf administration has taken a long-overdue step to begin assessing some aspects of the industry’s public health impact. It announced last week a $2.5 million grant to the University of Pittsburgh for two epidemiological studies in the heavily drilled Southwest area of the state.

One will assess whether there might be a connection between drilling activity and childhood cancers. The other will examine asthma incidence in the same region.

All industrial activity has some impact on public health, and there is no reason not to study and quantify it as a step toward mitigating the damage.

Dec. 6, the journal Environmental Research published a study by the Colorado School of Public Health, which concluded that people who live near oil and gas operations are 6% more likely to have early indicators of cardiovascular disease than those who don’t.

Researchers eliminated from the study people who smoke and those who are exposed to smoke, dust and chemicals in their workplaces.

The area covered by the study is much like Southwest Pennsylvania, in that it includes thousands of old and new wells, heavy industry-generated truck traffic and related factors.

The new Pennsylvania studies should lead to a comprehensive public health assessment throughout the state’s sprawling gas field.

— The Citizens’ Voice, Wilkes-Barre (TNS)

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