Shepstone Management Company, Inc.
Howard Zucker’s health report for New York receives a critical review by a Pennsylvania physician actually qualified to address community health issues.
We recently received an advance copy of a thorough evaluation of Dr. Howard Zucker’s health report by Dr. Theodore Them, who is a Fellow with the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine. The article, entitled “Zucker-Punched! The Dismissal of Science and Common Sense in New York” is due to be published soon by the American Council on Science and Health. We are pleased to publish some key excerpts.
We found the entire evaluation to be a refreshingly honest and practical analysis of the Zucker report but found the community impacts section to be most compelling. Here are some of the most interesting tidbits:
The word “potential” is used, ad nauseum, throughout Dr. Zucker’s report, and it is a commonly used word when invoking scare tactics. It is probabilities or likelihoods that Dr. Zucker should be addressing, not potentials.
After all, there are, at present, at least five (5) nuclear power plants in the state of New York – at least two (2) of them within a short distance of New York City – and there is always the potential for a nuclear catastrophe at each one. The probative question, though, is – based on the operating histories of those five nuclear plants, as well as the dozens of others scattered across the U.S. – what is the actual probability of such a catastrophe?
The same question should be asked with respect to each and every scare-tactic reference cited as a potential problem with HVHF in New York. Had Dr. Zucker taken the time to question his friendly Pennsylvania counterpart in this matter, he would have found that the Pennsylvania Department of Radiation Protection has actually stopped monitoring for such radionuclides on Marcellus gas-well sites and at hydrofracturing-fluid recycling plants in Pennsylvania because the related risk has been determined to be negligible.
In fact, a direct conversation between a gasfield engineer and this author revealed that the (measured) background radiation levels in the limestone used to cover gaswell pads (as well as used in routine operations of constructing roads, railroad beds, cement/concrete structures, etc., around the U.S.) are typically higher than those emanating from drilling-rock cuttings from the Marcellus! So, Dr. Zucker, should we stop constructing roads, railroad beds, and buildings made from limestone?
As in all industries in the U.S., the typical approach in such situations is hazard identification, then risk management (HIRM). In other words, when assessing “potentials,” the standard approach includes identifying the collective risks – in a systematic and comprehensive manner – then designing and implementing appropriate and comprehesive risk-management policies, procedures, and protocols to minimize and/or eliminate such threats to the health and well-being of humans, as well as to the protection of the ambient and “downstream” environments.
This writer has spent 25 years of his professional life helping industries from garages to high-technology glass-product manufacturers do just that, and those are basic principles of preventive medicine. There is no need for, or logic in, singling out an industry with some inherent, but manageable, risks as “potentially” harmful to humans; the proper approach is to invoke HIRM, just as New York did when permitting its nuclear-power plants.
Why not set standards, hold the industry accountable, and constantly monitor for change and improved methodologies toward related risk management”?
America did not rise to the level of the manufacturing marvel that it is by shunning “potentially” adverse production; it thought its way through such matters and implemented workable solutions. Yes, there have been mistakes, accidents, and other calamities, but the critical point is that firm regulations, close scrutiny, enforcement, and invoking new technologics toward risk management has worked for every other industry in the U.S., including those in New York.
Why should HVHF be different? Governor Hickenlooper of Colorado has done just that, having sat with the energy companies there, in a related summit, and having set high standards toward environmental protection and human health, successfully so. Aside from politics, why should New York be any different in this respect?
In fact, one of New York’s renowned, highly respected, external consultants in the matter, Richard J. Jackson, MD, MPH, Professor and Chair, UCLA Fielding School of Public Health, stated, on the fourth page of his (undated) letter to Dr. Zucker’s immediate predecessor, “The history of extraction industries with their boom and bust cycles can be dealt with wisely if the good of the public overall is the goal and there is strong regulation” (emphasis added).9 Note that the word “ban” was not invoked by Dr. Jackson…
And, let’s back up for a moment and contemplate Dr. Zucker’s concern for “occupational workers,” as so described on page 143 of his report. Besides the obvious (and humorous) redundancy of such a description, the federal government’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has held that jurisdiction since 1970. In fact, New York is one of the few states that opted to operate and manage its own state OSHA – up to at least federal standards – and remains quite active in that role throughout New York.
This author has dealt directly with New York OSHA on several, professional matters of concern to them over the past three decades. They are capable, competent and driven. Workers of New York fall under the jurisdiction of New York OSHA, not under NYS DOH. Dr. Zucker needs to constrain himself and his comments to his charge: the public of New York, not the workers.
And, despite the stated “concerns” by Dr. Zucker, the issues of airborne silica, potential chemical exposures, respiratory protection, and other occupational matters in the gasfields are not new – not even close to being new; all Dr. Zucker needs to do is log on to the Internet, at OSHA.gov, go to “Regulations,” and type in his key words, such as “respiratory protection.” There, he will find 29 CFR 1910.134, the OSHA Respiratory Protection Standard, which has been in effect for decades.
Similar standards can be found for over 400 chemicals on the same web site, each of which is regulated by OSHA. And, what is not specifically regulated there is covered under OSHA’s “General-Duty Clause,” which, under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, generally states that the employer is charged with providing a safe and healthful workplace for all employees, all the time. Pretty simple, huh? If Dr. Zucker and Governor Cuomo cannot trust New York OSHA to effectively oversee the safety and health of the workers of New York, then, perhaps, something is dreadfully wrong in New York.
As a matter of fact, this writer has been in the “thick” of Marcellus exploration, drilling, and production in Pennsylvania since 2002 and has been providing medical care to the gasfield workers from literally hundreds of related companies. This writer is constantly impressed with the scope, depth, and enforcement of employee-safety programs – at all stages of gas-well development – and has not seen much out of the ordinary in terms of employee injuries or diseases from gasfield operations.
The typical gamut of occupational strains, sprains, cuts, and bruises has been augmented by the occasional snakebite injury, rabid-animal bite, and/or chemical burn, but they most certainly have not been at any higher incidence than similar injuries seen in the hundreds of other businesses that this writer has had the pleasure of serving for over 20 years. Sorry, Dr. Zucker, but the “potential” just isn’t the same is the “real.”
On page 8 of his report, Dr. Zucker cited Geisinger Health System as “the lead organization in the collaborative Marcellus shale initiative,9” further stating,
…they began pilot studies in 2013 using well and infrastructure data toestimate exposures to all aspects of Marcellus shale development in Pennsylvania. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) abstract, they will use these exposure estimates to evaluate whether asthma control and pregnancy outcomes are affected by Marcellus shale development by studying 30,000 asthma patients and 22,000 pregnancies in the Geisinger Health System from 2006-13. Results from this study are not expected to be available for several years.
News flash, Dr. Zucker: There is no such study! This writer personally sat on that initial, “collaborative” committee, composed of representatives of Geisinger Health System, TheGuthrie Clinic, and Susquehanna Health. No firm path was set, no related funding was ultimately secured, and no study has, or will be, completed as part of this “collaborative.” Sorry, Dr. Zucker, but you got that just plain wrong!
In another part (page 30) of Dr. Zucker’s review, he invoked a “study” on 1,2-dibromoethane – a common additive to aviation fuel – that was detected in the air in and around some hydrofractured gas wells.9 The ultimate conclusion was that the chemical of interest emanated from a nearby airport, not from the nearby gas well or from the hydrofracturing process at all. Even the very authors of that study, per Dr. Zucker’s report, concluded that “their analysis demonstrated that shale gas operations in the monitored region of the Barnett [Barnett Shale, Texas] have not resulted in community-wide exposure to the measured volitile organic chemicals at levels that would pose a health concern” (emphasis and parenthetical comment added).
That conclusion brings to mind two questions: 1) Why even mention this in the review, especially if the well drillers did not cause it and were/are not culpable? and 2) Why not shut down the nearby airport for causing the otherwise-untenable air pollution? The respective, likely answers to these two questions are: 1) It was a convenient scare tactic to mention a chemical that even sounds scary. 2) It wouldn’t be practical to shut down the airport and interrupt services there. (Would it be more practical to shut down energy supplies based on a similar finding if it [a supposed, elevated level of an airborne pollutant from a gas well] had been true?)
While this writer lauds Dr. Zucker’s inclusion of such negative-findings (no adverse impact) studies in his report, one wonders why so many of the included review articles were, indeed, included if they did not support his conclusions. And, if they did not support his conclusions and recommendations, then why did they not support his conclusions and recommendations? The negative-findings studies in the report were, after all, numerous and poignant and seem to, both individually and collectively, negate many of Dr. Zucker’s own recommendations and arguments.
In his report, Dr. Zucker spends nearly three entire pages (pages 19-21) discussing “Birth Outcomes.” Again, the very last sentence of the first paragraph on page 19 says, “No statistically significant differences were observed for prematurity, congenital anomalies or infant death” (emphasis added). Several other studies along the same lines, cited by Dr. Zucker, on those same pages came to similar conclusions.
So, again, this author asks, why put the fear into New York residents for potential health effects that have not been seen in the populations of concern? Why not, Dr. Zucker, take all of the categories of “potential” concern and list them, in a table, under two columns of “proven harmful” and “not proven harmful/not seen to date?” This author would wager that the latter column would significantly outweigh the former based on Dr. Zucker’s research alone.
In the 12-13 years of surrounding Marcellus activity here, this physician has seen precisely two (2) patients from the community with health concerns regarding hydrofracturing/HVHF: the first was a retired man whose domestic water well – one which long pre-existed Marcellus drilling – penetrated a limestone formation, and he presented with elevated barium levels in both is domestic water and his blood, with some associated symptoms.
His lawyer had referred him to me, with hopes of a lawsuit against a nearby gas-well driller for “contaminating my water well with barite” (barium sulfate, which is a drilling “mud” and which is totally insoluble in both water and the human, acidic stomach, as proven via the common physician request for a “barium swallow” or a “barium enema” with, of course, barium sulfate, which is virtually nontoxic via the digestive tract). His well was contaminated with barium from the natural, background barium carbonate within the limestone (calcium carbonate), through which his water well had much earlier been drilled. Reverse osmosis hardware, at his source of drinking water, cured his problem.
The second, and last, patient with similar concerns was self-referred. Her chief (medical) complaint was, “I want compensation!” On direct questioning, her demand for compensation stemmed from some self-perceived “allergies” to “the chemicals.” When asked precisely what chemicals were causing her allergies (which had already been present for over 30 years!), her answer was “You know!”
No, this physician did not know, especially given that fact that this lady was under the (mis)impression that the tankers going to and from a gas well 5 miles distant from her home carried the “concentrated chemicals” that she feared and not simple, plain water that was the actual cargo! Her demands for “compensation” were colored by both her lack of credibility and her lack of knowledge of the hydrofracturing processes themselves. In addition, the year in question was one of the driest ones on record, and the vast majority of local allergy-suffering patients in this writer’s practice suffered similar symptoms of allergy flares regardless of their respective proximities to Marcellus gas wells.
This author’s own, direct research on that matter speaks to the complete absence of any community-member deaths and/or illnesses as direct results of Marcellus hydrofracturing activities in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and/or West Virginia.
And, finally, Dr. Zucker, the simple fact is that New York has, since at least the 1980s, permitted hydrofracturing! As published by the New York Department of Environmental Conservation (NY DEC) itself, “Horizontal drilling has been used in New York since the 1980s.” The latter (horizontal-drilling activity in New York) apparently spanned over 3 decades, without any evident and/or traceable adverse human-health impact(s) – a fact apparently overlooked by that state with respect to its present ban on the same type of drilling.
After more than 18 months of unsuccessful attempts at securing related data for his own research into such matters in New York10 (see page 25 there), this author was finally sent the following message from the NY DEC:
the current “hydrofracturing ban” imposed in 2008 is for high volume hydraulic fracturing (HVHF) which involves stimulation with greater than 80,000 gallons of water
low volume stimulations have not been banned and have been occurring in the state for approximately 50 to 60 years
DEC estimates that 90% of all gas wells drilled in the state required low volume fracture stimulation in an attempt to commercially produce the wells
The 75,000 wells drilled stat includes many well types other than gas wells (90% times 75,000 would yield and incorrect gas well stimulation total) (emphasis added).33
So, hydrofracturing – using precisely the same methodologies, technologies, and chemicals of current concern to Dr. Zucker – has been ongoing in New York for 50 to 60 years! Tell us, now, Dr. Zucker, where are all of the real (not potential) adverse human-health impacts in New York resulting from decades of hydrofracturing there? Where are all of the potential air pollution, noise, odors, light, road damage, and “stress” in the New York citizenry resulting from 5 to 6 decades of hydrofracturing there? What kind of double standard and trickery does Governor Cuomo expect you to promulgate? The fact is that New Yorkers have benefitted, quietly so, from a very safe, effective process – hydrofracturing – that has been ongoing right under their very “noses” for 50 to 60 years! This is an incredible hypocrisy!
We hope to offer more from Dr. Them’s report as soon as it is published.