After a tragedy, such as the loss of a loved one, people tend to seek out who or what is the villain responsible. This logic has recently come about resulting from Pennsylvania officials who, according to The Wall Street Journal, recently announced they were going to investigate a potential link to fracking and cancer in the southwest corner of the state resulting from multiple instances of a rare form of cancer named Ewing’s carcoma.
In no way should the concerns of the parents of lost children be diminished or downplayed and the utmost sympathy is expressed for their losses. However, in this case, it is very likely that Pennsylvania environmental officials will try to politicize the tragedy. Conveniently, the Marcellus Shale is located in the southwest region of Pennsylvania where many of the cases of Ewing’s carcoma have been reported but, according to the WSJ, is also home to not only oil drilling facilities but also coal mining, chemical plants, and a former uranium processing facility. Consequently, this opportunity, given resulting from concerns expressed by parents and other area residents, will give state officials ample opportunity to make some sort of link to fracking and cancer when, according to The Journal‘s own article, they admit there maybe none.
According to the WSJ‘s article:
“Each year, about 250 children in the U.S. are diagnosed with Ewing’s sarcoma, a rare cancer of the bone or surrounding soft tissue, according to the National Institutes of Health.
In four counties in southwest Pennsylvania, 31 people were diagnosed with Ewing’s sarcoma from 2006 through 2017, according to state cancer data. That is a roughly 40% increase from the period from 1995 through 2005, when 22 people in the same area were diagnosed, according to state data. Residents point to two additional cases in 2018. Most troubling to many local residents is that the six cases in Washington County since 2008 occurred in one school district.”
However, The Wall Street Journal also quotes people such as Pennsylvania Secretary of Health Rachel Levine:
“The biggest challenge is that a correlation doesn’t necessarily prove causation.” (emphasis mine)
While prior studies have been done that have found associations between fracking and cancer, The Journal reports (quotes emphasis mine):
“Scientists have identified exposure to substances such as arsenic and benzene as increasing the risk of developing cancer. But linking exposures to specific cases is difficult and occurs more often in workplaces than in communities where people live.”
No kidding, Dick Tracy! It should be noted:
“Evelyn Talbott, a professor of epidemiology at the University of Pittsburgh, said Pennsylvania investigators should look at residents’ potential exposures to chemicals and to radiation from natural-gas sites. She said they also should look at the sealed waste site of the defunct uranium-processing plant, area farms where pesticides are used, other industrial sites and even gas stations.
“I don’t think you should assume it’s one thing,” said Ms. Talbott, who grew up in Washington County and whose grandfather worked at the uranium-processing facility.”
No doubt an investigation into the causes of Ewing carcoma should be done. However, despite doubts and reservations expressed, this is looking like an obvious attempt by Pennsylvania health officials to make the case attempting to affirmatively and finally link fracking to cancer since fracking is being singled out. Doing so would open the door for Pennsylvania and health officials in other municipalities to not only make their case, reproduce results, and then environmentalist groups attempt to churn hysteria and raise money pointing to the political health studies.
One reasonable question a person commenting on the WSJ article asks is:
“[H]ow many of the 31 people diagnosed in the four counties in southwest Pennsylvania with Ewing’s sarcoma during 2006-2017 had some direct or proximate connection with fracking operations?”
This is relevant because The Wall Street Journal points out during April of this year, the Pennsylvania Health Department found during a similar investigation near the Marcellus Shale that cases linking fracking to cancer didn’t constitute a significantly consistent cancer cluster. Also, the article states that there is currently no known environmental cause for Ewing’s sarcoma, and that there are other areas of the country where fracking has gone on for decades and there have been no increases in even rare forms of cancer.
Fossil fuels is the perceived evil in our society and mankind’s heresy, according to environmentalists, is that we use Earth’s resources to enhance and even enrich our lives. The last thing that southwest Pennsylvania families whose sons or daughters tragically died resulting from Ewing’s sarcoma need is a conclusion based on confirmation bias that trial lawyers and environmentalists can weaponize. This especially since there are other areas of the country where fracking has gone on for decades and there have been no increases in even rare forms of cancer.
Will all of this matter to Pennsylvania health officials and environmentalists? Probably not.