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Amazing Revelations in the DOH Public Health Review/Thanks So Much For All Your Help

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I write to share what I learned by reading A Public Health Review [PHR] of High Volume Hydraulic Fracturing [HVHF] for Shale Gas Development, which was released by the New York State Department of Health (DOH) on December 17, 2014.

As you know, the PHR concluded: "Until the science provides sufficient information to determine the level of risk to public health from HVHF to all New Yorkers and whether the risks can be adequately managed, DOH recommends that HVHF should not proceed in NYS."

See second paragraph, PDF page three and PDF page eight:

It is very important to understand the findings of the PHR because this precedent-setting document will likely determine the fate of shale fracking in New York for years to come. See conclusion below. It also has national implications for states where shale fracking is underway or proposed.

The PHR reveals that its final determination was not simply based on "good science." The PHR documents that the Cuomo administration reportedly came incredibly close to permitting shale fracking in late 2012 and early 2013 by working hard to finish its original DOH "review" and adopt a Final SGEIS. That is exactly what we long suspected.

I believe our concerted campaign during the last two years played a key role in preventing those two improper proceedings from being completed until we miraculously achieved a total reversal of the findings in the original draft DOH "review." Thank you so much for making that happen. Congrats. That is mind-boggling.

Four Amazing Revelations in the DOH Public Health Review

The PHR contains previously unreported documents that provide at least four stunning revelations. These documents are presented for your review at:

1) A draft DOH "review" was reportedly circulated on November 20, 2012 to the three outside experts hired by Dr. Nirav R. Shah. Extensive efforts were made to complete the DOH "review" until at least March 2013.

This was exactly when our campaign began to focus on halting the DOH "review" and requiring a comprehensive "Public Health Impact Study" to be conducted. Our timing could not have been more perfect. That work was done in the nick of time.

Dr. John L. Adgate wrote to Dr. Shah on PDF page 63: "Your November 20, 2012 letter included the draft report and associated materials on health outcome surveillance, existing and planned interactions between state and local agencies under the proposed shale-­‐gas program, the DEC’s SGEIS and the response to comments on the SGEIS."

Dr. Lynn R. Goldman wrote on PDF page 75: "I sent you a first draft of my review on December 2, 2012. You held a conference call with John Adgate, Richard Jackson, and I on December 3, 2012. On December 7, 2012, you emailed me: (1) A revised document titled "A Public Health Review of the Department of Environmental Conservation's Supplemental Generic Environmental lmpact Statement for Shale-Gas Development" with changes shown in "track changes", dated December 7, 2012 and (2) a copy of all three of the draft reviewer's comments with annotations (in track changes) from NY DOH staff. On December 17, 2012 I sent you a letter responding to these revised documents. In mid-February you sent me a revised confidential draft: "Public Health Review of the Department of Environmental Conservation's Draft Supplemental Generic Environmental lmpact Statement for Shale-Gas Development" and requested review of this draft."

As you will see on PDF page 74, Dr. Goldman wrote on March 4, 2013: "I have completed my peer review of the public-health elements of the Department of Environmental Conservation's (DEC) supplemental generic environmental impact statement (SGEIS) for high-volume hydraulic fracturing (HVHF). As requested, this letter summarizes my review of your Department's effort to date."

Dr. Adgate's submitted additional comments on March 3. 2013. See PDF page 63.

Dr. Richard J. Jackson's submitted comments, but they are undated. See PDF page 85.

2) Shale fracking was reportedly being considered to be permitted on a "phased start" or "phased rollout" as a "mitigation measure."

On 6/13/12, Danny Hakim of The New York Times famously reported: "Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's administration is pursuing a plan to limit the controversial drilling method known as hydraulic fracturing to portions of several struggling New York counties along the border with Pennsylvania, and to permit it only in communities that express support for the technology." Our campaign totally opposed permitting shale fracking to begin anywhere in New York unless it was deemed safe everywhere in the state. We fought tooth and nail to require equal protection for all New Yorkers from shale frackng hazards and won that battle.

Dr. Adgate wrote on PDF page 64: "If NY State decides to allow HVHF the DOH has developed a viable approach to addressing the main public health issues associated with shale gas development. The PHR and SGEIS describe a phased start to shale gas development (emphasis added) that is coupled with baseline and subsequent monitoring of potential impacts."

Dr. Goldman wrote on PDF page 75: "As I have noted previously, many of the proposed mitigation measures are a model for other states that are considering or undertaking these operations. I agree with the notion embedded in the latest review that such mitigation measures would need to be monitored over time. Second I agree with the notion of a phased approach to HVHF gas-development that would allow public health problems to be identified earlier, and reduce problems resulting from overly rapid growth ("boom and bust") (emphasis added).

3) The draft DOH "review" failed to address a wide range of extraordinarily detailed technical comments submitted by Toxics Targeting and many others.

Our campaign documented at least 17 key issues that were not specifically considered in any meaningful way during the "review." The "review" also did not resolve concerns about inadequate shale fracking health impact research. Those concerns ultimately were underscored by Dr. Zucker in the PHR.

Dr. Goldman wrote on PDF page 74: "The charge was to "focus on whether additional public-health impacts should be considered in the SGEIS and whether additional mitigation measures are needed to address potential public-health impacts." I also was to "consider whether existing and proposed environmental and health monitoring and surveillance systems are adequate to establish baseline health indicators and to measure potential health impacts." The NY DOH specifically identified several areas of possible concern for public health: contamination of drinking water resources; ambient air pollution; releases of naturally-occurring radioactive materials (NORM); community impacts related to noise and utilization of local services like transportation; healthcare, education, housing and social services; and adequacy of existing and proposed health surveillance and HVHF-related monitoring programs.

Dr. Adgate wrote on PDF page 68: "The lack of substantive research to address many of the main public health concerns is still one of the major limitations facing both public health experts and decision-­‐makers."

4) It appears that the outcome of the draft DOH "review" was viewed favorably by the experts.

Dr. Goldman wrote on PDF page 76: "NY State has done a credible job of thoroughly reviewing potential environmental health impacts of HVHF." She concluded: "This document as it currently stands is an excellent review of the relevant public health issues, and attendant uncertainties and data gaps."

Dr. Goldman similarly noted on PDF page 84: "In closing, I recognize the truly impressive quantity and quality of work that has been performed to date by the NYDOH."

Dr. Adgate wrote on PDF page 67: "If shale gas development goes forward in NY the approach outlined in the PHR represents a viable strategy for protecting public health."

Dr. Jackson wrote on PDF page 88: "...the NYS DoH Public Health Review that was updated and sent to me on December 7, 2012, reflects substantial “due diligence.”

All three outside experts did not support conducting a Health Impact Assessment as requested by various environment groups.

Dr. Adgate wrote on PDF page 74: "During our conference call you asked the reviewers if a Health Impact Assessment (HIA) should be done for shale gas development in NY and we all said no. As someone who helped develop a HIA in Colorado I know the benefits and shortcomings of HIA for addressing future health impacts from natural gas development. Given the current state of the science I do not think a HIA can project future health effects attributable to shale gas development with reasonable precision."

Dr. Adgate also noted on the same page: "For all these reasons I believe New York’s proposed prospective monitoring approach that focuses on preventing future exposures, tracking potential health effects, and mitigation is preferable to a HIA at this time."

Big Finish to All Our Efforts

On November 28, 2012, we began to systematically and relentlessly pressure Governor Cuomo to halt the extraordinarily limited scope DOH "review" conducted in secret without any public participation. Unbeknownst to us, the DOH was working to complete its "review," adopt a Final SGEIS and complete a revised rulemaking proceeding. All that work had to be completed within 90 days.

We killed the revised rulemaking proceeding by preventing the DOH "review" from being finished by a key deadline of 2/12/13. Without a completed DOH "review," no Final SGEIS could be adopted. As a result, New York's shale fracking moratorium continued in full force.

Over the next two years, we generated extensive media coverage for our concerns, gained more than 10,000 signatories for four major coalition letters and submitted thousands of individualized letters to Governor Cuomo which requested that:

"The proposed DOH Public Health Impact Study also must resolve all of the fundamental shortcomings of the Revised Draft Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement (SGEIS) by documenting:

A: The broad spectrum of toxic and persistent pollutants generated by HVHF activities;

B: The environmental fate and transport mechanisms associated with the toxic and persistent pollutants generated by HVHF activities;

C: Known and potential public exposures to toxic and persistent HVHF pollutants, including: contaminant concentrations; exposure duration; an assessment of all potential public health consequences; and

D: Whether the Draft SGEIS adequately safeguards public health from HVHF toxic pollution threats."

In the final analysis, the PHR released on 12/17/14 largely achieved what we requested and reached conclusions that we are very pleased with. Even though we failed to persuade the Cuomo administration to require public participation for the proceeding or to start the "review" over again, we evidently helped persuade the powers-that-be that Dr. Zucker's investigation "needed to extend beyond the scope" of Dr. Shah's original investigation. See page three. That was our goal.

Against that background, the unprecedented PHR reached the historic conclusions presented on page seven:
"Based on this review, it is apparent that the science surrounding HVHF activity is limited, only just beginning to emerge, and largely suggests only hypotheses about potential public health impacts that need further evaluation. That is, many of the published reports investigating both environmental impacts that could result in human exposures and health implications of HVHF activities are preliminary or exploratory in nature. However, the existing studies also raise substantial questions about whether the risks of HVHF activities are sufficiently understood so that they can be adequately managed. Furthermore, the public health impacts from HVHF activities could be significantly broader than just those geographic locations where the activity actually occurs, thus expanding the potential risk to a large population of New Yorkers.

As with most complex human activities in modern societies, absolute scientific certainty regarding the relative contributions of positive and negative impacts of HVHF on public health is unlikely to ever be attained. In this instance, however, the overall weight of the evidence from the cumulative body of information contained in this Public Health Review demonstrates that there are significant uncertainties about the kinds of adverse health outcomes that may be associated with HVHF, the likelihood of the occurrence of adverse health outcomes, and the effectiveness of some of the mitigation measures in reducing or preventing environmental impacts which could adversely affect public health. Until the science provides sufficient information to determine the level of risk to public health from HVHF to all New Yorkers and whether the risks can be adequately managed, DOH recommends that HVHF should not proceed in New York State."


In conclusion, we will not know exactly how the DOH's powerful recommendations will be translated into public policy until a Final Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement is adopted and a legally-binding "Findings Statement" is issued. That reportedly should happen as soon as sometime this month.

We might not be out of the woods quite yet in this epic fight, but we are seemingly very close. After going on six years, our battle to require adoption of a Final SGEIS that can safeguard New York from shale fracking harm could be winding down. Keep your fingers crossed.

Please allow me to close by noting that a measure of how much the DOH "review" expanded over time is that the three outside experts were originally hired for only 25 hours of work. The final PHR states: "In total, more than 20 DOH senior Research Scientists, Public Health Specialists, and Radiological Health Specialists spent approximately 4500 hours on this Review."

Thanks so much for all of your help. Please give yourself a pat on the back for a job nicely done. I bow in gratitude.

We have been exceedingly fortunate. It is hard to believe that events could have turned out better.

Check out some new coverage that provides an overview of recent events:

Onward and upward.

Very best regards,

Walter Hang

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