A recently passed law in Pennsylvania has drawn outrage from the environmental and public health communities. The new law, HB 1950, states that companies must disclose the contents and quantities of chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing “fracking” fluids to any health professional that requests such information with the goal of treating a patient who may have been exposed to such harmful chemicals. While this result may seem positive at first, the law goes on to require health professionals to sign non-disclosure agreements with fracking companies, effectively ending their ability to discuss the content of the fracking chemicals with anyone – including their own patients. This is especially troubling to public health professionals, due to the many kinds of chemicals that can be included in fracking fluid, and the kinds of negative effects they can have on people who are exposed to them (including headaches, dizziness, and even cancer).
Hydraulic fracturing/fracking involves the injection of chemicals, sand, and water into geologic formations, with the goal of increasing the amount of natural gas that can be harvested. Fracking itself has become a widespread industry across the United States, and no more so than in Pennsylvania. The passage of HB 1950 has caused a great deal of concern among public health officials there in particular, who feel that the limits being placed on physicians and other health professionals are unfair and against the best interests of society. David Masur, director of PennEnvironment is one of these people, and has stated that the enactment of this law could scare doctors away from wanting to research potential impacts of fracking. His concerns are likewise shared by Walter Tsou, president of the Philadelphia chapter of Physicians for Social Responsibility, who believes that fracking companies must have something that they want hidden from the public.
The provision to HB 1950 that has resulted in the current uproar was added during conference between the two chambers of the Pennsylvania State Legislature. This means that legislators were not likely even aware it was there until it had already gone through. State Senator Daylin Leach has expressed his dissatisfaction with the new law, stating that the rights of companies to keep their fracking fluids secret is less important than the right of the public to know what they are being exposed to. He goes on to state that the lack of knowledge about the content of the fracking fluids used by fracking companies means that it’s hard to show that they are responsible for the rise in sickness and death that is being felt by citizens living around drilling wells. Fracking companies are also unregulated under federal programs, including the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) Toxic Release Inventory, and the Safe Drinking Water Act.