Post-Gazette’s Claims on Childhood Cancer Unsupported by Medical Experts, Science

As an industry focused on enhancing public health and safety, we’re deeply disappointed in the Post-Gazette’s continued efforts to sensationalize tragedy through unsubstantiated claims regarding regional childhood cancer cases.  

“Our hearts break for anyone battling cancer,” MSC’s David Spigelmyer told the paper. “Given our industry’s deep commitment to protecting the health, safety and environment of our communities, and our strong support for fact- and science-based research, we are disturbed that some continue to make inflammatory suggestions that fly in the face of the opinions held by respected and unbiased medical experts. While we cannot comprehend the grief of those personally affected, our industry – made up of countless western Pennsylvanians – takes an enormous responsibility, on a very personal level, to protect and enhance public health and safety.”

When news broke earlier this year bringing attention to regional Ewing Sarcoma cases, we looked to independent medical experts and organizations who maintain that there are “no known lifestyle or environmental causes” of this type of cancer.

After a thorough investigation, the Pennsylvania Department of Health confirmed in late April that “incidence rates for the Ewing’s family of tumors and childhood cancers in Washington County and Canon-McMillan School District were not statistically significantly higher than expected.

READ MORE from UPMC, Pa. Department of Health, Mayo Clinic and
American Cancer Society experts in our April blog.

Despite these clear facts, the Post-Gazette remains intent on advancing its own narrative by suggesting that natural gas development is a potential cause in two recently published stories.

Here are four key facts to consider regarding the Post-Gazette’s May 12 & 13 articles:

1. No Established Baseline or Statewide Comparison: While the Post-Gazette’s story is centered around a so-called “spike” and “high numbers of childhood cancers” in southwestern Pennsylvania, the paper fails to establish an expected baseline level of cases or compare such incidence rates to other parts of the state or region.

If one looks to the recent Pa. Department of Health investigation, the independent scientific research plainly states that when compared statewide and over distinct time periods the “incidence rates for the Ewing’s family of tumors and childhood cancers in Washington County and Canon-McMillan School District were not consistently and statistically significantly higher than expected in all three time periods analyzed.”

Click HERE to read more from the April 2019 Pa. Department of Health report.

2. Air Quality Monitoring Shows No Health Concerns: Air quality monitoring conducted by independent regulatory and academic experts continue to show little-to-no elevated levels of known air pollutants from well sites. As the Post-Gazette reported in 2018, for example, a Pa. DEP studyfinds few health risks” and noted “little risk of healthy residents getting sick from breathing the air nearby.”

What’s more, a 2016 study, as reported in the Observer-Reporter, concluded after extensive air quality monitoring that volatile organic compounds (VOCs) were “well below health-protective levels.” Similarly, a 2015 study by Drexel University experts notes “there are few emissions of non-alkane VOCs from Marcellus Shale development.”

While these are just several examples, it’s an absolute fact that Pennsylvania’s air quality continues to dramatically improve thanks to the production and greater use of clean natural gas. Emissions of known air pollutants –VOCs, SOx, NOx, and particulate matter – have plummeted alongside the greater use of natural gas in power generation. As Pennsylvania’s top environmental regulator, DEP Secretary Patrick McDonnell, noted during a hearing earlier this year, “we were already well on our way in larger part – and have actually since met what were proposed [Clean Power Plan] goals – primarily because of the shift toward cleaner natural gas.

3. Pennsylvania’s Modern, Effective Regulatory Framework: As former Governor Ed Rendell and DEP Secretary John Hanger wrote in the New York Times in 2011, “Pennsylvania has the strongest enforcement program of any state with gas drilling. Period.” Since then, with the industry’s support, Pennsylvania’s regulatory framework has been further strengthened and modernized. According to the State Review of Oil and Natural Gas Environmental Regulations, a nonprofit environmental review organization, Pennsylvania’s regulatory program is “well-managed, professional and meeting its program objectives.”

Further, Pa. DEP released a comprehensive analysis last year on the structural soundness of wells in the state confirming industry’s clear and strong record of environmental protection. “Our Mechanical Integrity Assessment Program is the most rigorous routine well integrity assessment program to protect groundwater in the United States,” DEP Secretary McDonnell said.

And when it comes to transparency, despite the Post-Gazette’s false and misleading reporting, natural gas producers in Pennsylvania disclosed fracturing fluid makeups on a well-by-well basis to FracFocus.org – a national, publicly accessible disclosure registry – before it was required by law.

4. Reporters Rely on Deeply Flawed Research: In it’s May 12 report, the Post-Gazette referenced a deeply flawed Colorado study that the state’s Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Larry Wolk, called “misleading” and pointed to numerous flaws in the study’s design, including the small sample size. What’s more, the reporters also reference work by a Yale School of Public Health epidemiologist – a study that cautionedthe presence of chemicals alone does not confirm exposure or risk of exposure to carcinogens.”

Our industry believes in and strongly supports fair and honest media reporting. It’s unfortunate, however, that some at the Post-Gazette continue advance deeply biased narratives that run counter to decades of independent medical research and the views of unbiased medical professionals.

Like all Pennsylvanians, we’re profoundly saddened by the impact on these young lives. And while we cannot comprehend the grief of all those personally affected, our industry – made up of countless western Pennsylvanians – takes an enormous responsibility, on a very personal level, to protect and enhance public health and safety.