I’ve been in the fight to stop fracking for a long time now – nearly ten years. And in that time, I’ve gotten to know many people who have experienced the worst fracking has brought to our state. None of that prepared me for what I witnessed on October 7th in a high school auditorium in Washington County.
The people in the Canon-McMillan High School auditorium were angry. Why? Because their children are getting cancer -- rare cancers, like Ewing Sarcoma that affect a couple of hundred people nationwide per year. In the past decade, six cases of the rare bone cancer have been diagnosed in the district, as well as ten cases of other rare cancers. Theirs is not the only district affected. In just four rural counties – Washington, Fayette, Green, and Westmoreland – at least 67 children have been diagnosed. Thirteen of them have died.
Carla Marratto Cumming told the representatives of the Department of Health who were finally holding the public meeting the communities had been demanding for months that she had watched her brother take his last breath. Luke Blanock was only 19 when he succumbed to Ewing Sarcoma in 2016. “My brother’s dead. Someone up here has got to speak the truth,” Marratto Cumming told the panel. She was referring to fracking. The agency recently published a study with its counterpart in Colorado to dismiss the peer-reviewed science that links fracking to numerous health issues and used flawed methodology to do it. Marratto Cumming challenged the panel to name one thing that has boomed in the area in the past few years. The first unconventional well in Pennsylvania went into the ground in Washington County 15 years ago.
Even Washington County Representative Tim O’Neal said that fracking could be the cause of the cancers and should be investigated. The vast majority of Pennsylvania politicians are loathe to say anything negative about the industry that has spent more than $60 million contributing to their campaigns and lobbying them.
Prior to Monday’s meeting, O’Neal and his colleague Representative Jason Ortitay had secured funding for a study of the cause of the spike in cancers, but it’s a genetic study, not the environmental study needed.
It’s time for our government to take decisive action to get the affected communities the answers they need and deserve. Instead, our legislators, O’Neal and Ortitay among them, are considering several bills this fall like the package of eight bills known collectively as Energize PA that would provide subsidies to the industry, SB790 that, among other things, allows conventional drillers to spread drilling waste on unpaved roads, and Restore Pennsylvania, Governor Wolf’s $4.5 billion infrastructure spending plan that includes fossil fuel subsidies and guarantees 20 more years of drilling and fracking to pay for the plan.
If there’s even a chance fracking is giving kids cancer, the priority must be investigating environmental factors, not passing bills that will condemn even more young people to becoming cancer patients by the time they graduate from high school.
Karen Feridun, Kutztown, founder of Berks Gas Truth