Post-Gazette Continues to Peddle Junk Science

Cites convicted federal felon who illegally pushed drugs into community as “trusted, expert” voice

Unoriginal. Loose (at best) with the facts. Totally predictable.

The Post-Gazette’s latest broadside attacking Pennsylvania’s natural gas workers and their commitment to protecting public health and our environment was effectively a CliffsNotes of anti-energy activism “research” that’s been previously blogged about on some of the internet’s most fringe corners.

One of the story’s star sources? A convicted federal felon, who illegally pushed drugs into our communities (one of the very few contextual facts the reporters’ got right in their story).

These reporters tossed the most basic journalist principles to the curb long ago. Their pattern of bias and unwillingness to objectively and fairly report the facts is an extreme departure from what the paper’s executive editor assured its readers. Upon being named executive editor earlier this year, Keith Burris made it clear that opinion and news coverage must be separate.

I’m uncomfortable with news stories that have opinion in them,” Burris said. “Opinion sometimes masquerading as analysis really should be on the opinion pages.” He continued, saying news coverage should be “inviolate” and “sacrosanct” and “we don’t mess with it.

The Post-Gazette – “One of America’s Great Newspapers” is its tagline – once embodied firm, fair and professional journalism. Unfortunately, with opinions indeed masquerading (though not very well) as news, readers continue to lose trust and question whether it’s worth the paper it’s printed on (three times a week).

The claims the Post-Gazette has advanced against the natural gas industry are serious, flatly wrong and totally inflammatory – and more than anything, biased.

It’s ironic that Don Hopey claims to be “dedicated to the fair reporting of information.

Review the facts and critical context in this post, along with separate and related fact checks linked below, and ask yourself: is the Post-Gazette really “dedicated to fair reporting”?


Post-Gazette Reporting

Facts

Post-Gazette series is centered on activist “research”.
 
The compendium, compiled by Medical Professionals of New York and Physicians for Social Responsibility, is updated regularly with new studies.”

The Compendium of Scientific, Medical and Media Findings put its own conclusions in bold print: Our examination of the peer-reviewed medical, public health, biological, earth sciences and engineering literature uncovered no evidence that fracking can be practiced in a manner that does not threaten human health.


The Post-Gazette continues to purposefully ignore credible, independent and exhaustive research (which we have provided) and is focused on promoting the views of fringe organizations like Physicians for Social Responsibility. PSR isn’t bashful about its goal to kill energy jobs, stating on its website that they “oppose fracking, fracked-gas pipelines, compressor stations, and fossil fuel export.”
 
As we have previously uncovered, with the backing of anti-energy organizations like PSR, the Post-Gazette set out a year ago to generate scary headlines. Their predetermined narrative was already mapped out, as evidenced by a June 2018 tweet from one of the reporters. Rather than fairly reporting the facts – including state investigations, reports on health trends, air and water quality analysis that conclude natural gas development is safely and well regulated – the “news” reporters took their opinion and then looked for stories to fit it.
Key source a convicted felon with a checkered past.
 
The boys’ neurologist, Dr. Felix Brizuela of Harrison City, who had offices in Connellsville and Morgantown, W.Va., told her the boys had “taken a neurological hit” from pollution exposure, Ms. Carr said.

(Earlier this year, Dr. Brizuela was convicted by a federal jury on 15 counts of illegally distributing controlled substances outside the bounds of professional medical practice.)

The Post-Gazette purposefully ignores independent, objective research from credible organizations, as well as medical and public health experts –yet deems it acceptable and in its readers’ interest to rely heavily on the reports of a convicted federal felon.
 
While Post-Gazette discloses that Felix Brizuela was convicted by a federal grand jury for illegally distributing oxycodone, fentanyl, and oxymorphine, it did not disclose that Brizuela’s criminal history dates back nearly 30 years and is full of disciplinary board actions across seven states.

— In 1992, the NJ State Board of Medical Examiners reprimanded Brizuela for seeing patients as an unlicensed physician.
— In 2016, the WV Board of Osteopathic Medicine concluded that Brizuela “engaged in dishonorable, unethical or unprofessional conduct of character likely to deceive, defraud or harm the public.”
— In 2017, Kentucky temporarily suspended Brizuela’s license and, in 2018, following an emergency order, his license was suspended as he posed a “danger to the health, welfare and safety of his patients or the general public.”
— In 2018, Indiana suspended Brizuela’s medical license as the Medical Licensing Board found that he “represents a clear and immediate danger to the public health and safety if allowed to continue to practice.
— Pennsylvania suspended Brizuela’s medical license in 2018, along with West Virginia and Ohio following this federal felony conviction.

How is it that the Post-Gazette can consider Brizuela – a doctor with a long and clear record of breaking the law, who was convicted of illegally suppling opiates to his patients, including a 15-year old girl who had been “crushing up and snorting the medication” – a credible source, yet omit research, data and reports by other environmental and health experts?
Fail to disclose funding, activist views of key “academic” sources.

But John Stolz, director of Duquesne University’s Center for Environmental Research and Education, said chemicals now known to be hazardous aren’t restricted by federal drinking water standards established long before shale gas operations got underway in Pennsylvania.

Bolstering Mr. Latkanich’s assertions are test results from a toxicology report in August 2018 by UPMC toxicologist Michael Abesamis that says that Ryan’s health issues could be linked to gas wells in their backyard.

A 2017 peer-reviewed study by Dr. Deborah Gentile of the Pediatric Alliance in the Allegheny Health Network found that “eight school systems exposed to the highest levels of particulate pollution from industrial sources had 1.6 times the risk of an asthma diagnosis.” It also determined there was a “nearly five times greater prevalence of uncontrolled asthma linked to outdoor air pollution” than other asthma triggers.

The article relies on key academic sources, including Dr. John Stolz, Dr. Michael Abesamis, and Dr. Deborah Gentile, but the Post-Gazette fails to disclose that their work is funded by anti-energy foundations and organizations.
 
— Upon terminating his bid as Democrat for Congress in late 2017, John Stolz wrote on his Facebook page: “I will now be free to continue my outreach and advocacy for the new economy with a fossil fuel free future.”

Further, Dr. Stolz’ research is funded by the Heinz Endowments, an organization that bankrolls anti-natural gas activism, as reported in the Associated Press, and the Colcom Foundation, a group who’s “roots” are in “population control.” Reporting on the Heinz Endowments’ activism, the Philanthropy Roundtable wrote: “The Heinz Foundation has handed out some $12 million in recent years, mostly to stir opposition in Pennsylvania, where shale-gas extraction has proceeded with bipartisan support.”
 
What’s more, courts and zoning boards have tossed Dr. Stolz’ opinion on shale development and water quality, finding that he “did not qualify…as an expert” and the legal bodies “did not credit his testimony.”
 
Michael Abesamis is closely aligned with anti-natural gas organizations like the Breathe Project and Southwest Environmental Health Project, which are funded by the Heinz Endowments.
 
— The article cites Deborah Gentile’s research funded by the Heinz Endowments and promoted by the Breathe Project, a Heinz Endowments-funded organization.
Research debunked by credible medical organizations, leading public health professionals.

But the health impacts with the strongest conclusions in shale-gas research — including that in the compendium and in independent University of Pittsburgh research — involve mothers who live near shale-gas operations. They can face high-risk pregnancies, preterm births and low birth-weight babies.

Health outcomes generally worsen the closer a person lives to shale gas operations, according to a UCLA Health Sciences review of 37 studies on health hazards associated with oil and natural gas extraction.

In May, the Post-Gazette documented 67 cases of childhood cancer, many of them rare types including Ewing sarcoma, in Washington County’s Canon-McMillan School District, Westmoreland County and other southwestern Pennsylvania counties where shale gas development is underway.

While repeatedly referring to research “links,” the Post-Gazette ignores the responses, data and research from any number of independent, highly credible organizations, including this compendium of studies demonstrating the safety and health benefits of natural gas development.
 
Globally Recognized Magee Women’s Research Institute: When it comes to very serious accusations of low infant birthweight, described in the “independent University of Pittsburgh study” the article references, the Magee Women’s Research Institute wrote that the studies like this “are not rigorous enough to generate firm, action-guiding scientific conclusions.”

The well-respected institute that’s part of the UPMC network continued: “The study found no significant and consistent associations between residence near unconventional gas development wells and either preterm birth or fetal abnormalities. The results do not rely on the most stringent criteria for clinically relevant fetal growth abnormality, and do not support a conclusion that the proximity to the unconventional gas development wells caused reduced birth weights or a higher incidence of small for gestational age fetuses.
 
Pa. Dept. of Health Report on Childhood Cancer: Overall, there were no conclusive findings indicating that the incidence rates of Ewing’s family of tumors In Washington County and Canon-McMillan School District for female and male populations were consistently and statistically significantly higher than the rest of the state over the time periods reviewed.”
 
PA & CO Review: A systematic review, released in June, by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment and PA DOH of existing epidemiologic literature concluded that the majority of studies claiming to link health impacts to oil and natural gas development were rated “low certainty” and limited in study design. Most of the studies, the state health agencies concluded, had “conflicting evidence (mixed), insufficient evidence, or in some cases, a lack of evidence of the possibility for harmful health effects.” 
Article ignores air quality monitoring, environmental impacts from massive highway construction.

As a bonus, [the Warners’] blue frame house with a big backyard in Robinson, north of McDonald, is a stone’s throw from the Montour Trail….

The Warners, however, say they are convinced that their health troubles are linked to pollution, including that from truck traffic and shale-gas operations.

Parents of several other Fort Cherry students told the Post-Gazette that their children also have had sudden and unexplained asthma attacks, headaches and nosebleeds at school. One student, in addition to asthma, has joint problems and lab results show levels of benzene in her blood that her guardian said are elevated.

Recent studies conducted by the Pa. DEP and scientific experts of actual air quality near well sites and compressor stations show no air quality issues. Yet, the Post-Gazette chose to ignore these reports from credible experts, likely, because they don’t fit the paper’s predetermined narrative.
 
PA DEP Long-Term Health Study: The DEP’s long-term ambient air monitoring project of facilities in Washington County released in 2018 foundfew health risks” and generally similar levels as a fruit orchard in Adams County, where no shale development takes place.
 
Comprehensive, Multi-Year Air Quality Analysis: A recent comprehensive air quality analysis conducted by Gradient, a Boston-based environmental firm, found that natural gas operations in the Ft. Cherry School District “do not pose any acute or chronic health concerns” and the data – which was taken from three site monitors over a two-year period and encompassed all stages of well development – “showed no air quality impacts of public health concern.”
 
Air monitoring results, for example, from a 2015 Drexel University study and a separate 2016 Ft. Cherry School District air quality study came to similar conclusions.
 
Moreover, the paper didn’t disclose that the Warner family lives in direct and close proximity to where the region’s first highway is being actively built in the past two decades. This is a highly active, intense and, at times, 24-7 construction operation.
 
As the Post-Gazette has reported, construction on the highway, which began in 2016 – the period the family says they “became prisoners in their own home” – has required moving 27 million cubic yards of dirt, blasting of hillsides and “lots of excavators and dump trucks doing lots of digging and loading and dumping.”
 
State regulators investigated and determined water not affected by natural gas.

[Mr. Latkanich] blames gas development for contamination in his well water.”

Mr. Latkanich said he took his son and a friend — an environmental activist — with him to the conference in early June.

Copying reports by other blogs, the Post-Gazette features Bryan Latkanich, who has campaigned in other states alongside Clean Water Action and other fringe activists that want to ban shale development.
 
In fact, the unnamed “environmental activist” mentioned alongside Latkanich in the story is Lois Bower-Bjornson, an anti-natural gas activist with the Clean Air Council. Bower-Bjornson and the Clean Air Council have a long, clear record working to ban responsible, job-creating natural gas development. And why didn’t the Post-Gazette name this source?
 
As the Post-Gazette does point out, multiple DEP investigations all concluded that natural gas development did not impact Latkanich’s water.
 
The Post-Gazette (see tweet above) has spent the better part of the year working on this series. And this recent story focused heavily on health-related claims made my Mr. Latkanich about his son.
 
Why didn’t the paper report this critical health information, which has been reported by Inside Climate News, an environmental blog?
 
— “While [Mr. Latkanich] was in a coma, his girlfriend gave birth to [their son] Ryan. She was addicted to cocaine and opioids, and the newborn spent three weeks going through withdrawal. The state placed Ryan in foster care.”
Inclusion of deceptive, activist videos that show little to nothing about air quality.

Environmental group Earthworks used a FLIR camera to capture infrared video of emissions from one of the two Cibus-Imperial compressor stations in Robinson, Washington County. The emissions are especially visible toward the end of the video. (Earthworks)

Earthworks has a history of using such videos to deceive and scare the public into thinking that the forward looking infrared technology (FLIR) can analyze air quality, which it cannot.

FLIR cameras do not show the volume, rate of emission, or what is being emitted. For instance, water vapor is often indistinguishable from hydrocarbons in a FLIR image.
 
By Earthworks’ own admission, no air quality tests were conducted with FLIR footage they’ve released in other states. “Purposely deceiving the public does not help anyone, let alone help the environment,” said an environmental expert specifically trained to use the FLIR devices.


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