A group of public health experts are questioning whether Governor Andrew Cuomo’s health officials can do a credible job reviewing a health study on hydrofracking, saying independent reviewers would be a better choice.
Cuomo’s health commissioner is conducting a health impact review on whether hydrofracking can be done safely in New York state. According to a statement issued last month by the state environmental commissioner, Health Commissioner Dr. Nirav Shah will appoint some outside experts and then review health impact data collected by the environmental agency. Since then, there have been no new details released.
Over 50 doctors, nurses and scientists in New York have signed a letter to the governor asking for more information and questioning whether the state Department of Health can objectively review the health information.
Dr. David Carpenter is director of The Institute for Health and the Environment at SUNY School of Public Health. Carpenter, who used to work at the state health department in the 1980s, 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.”
Carpenter says he experienced political pressure when he directed the health department’s laboratories during former Governor Hugh Carey's administration. Carpenter says they wanted to do a study of radon in homes, but 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.
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.