Innamorato hails state study into cause of rare SWPA childhood cancers

Says department should move quickly, decisively to determine cause and seek answers

PITTSBURGH, Nov. 22 – Less than a week after co-hosting a legislative briefing on the rise of rare childhood cancer diagnoses in southwestern Pa., state Rep. Sara Innamorato, D-Lawrenceville, today hailed an announcement that the state Department of Health is launching an investigation into possible ties to gas field development.

“I am pleased to hear that the Department of Health is responding to the stories of families whose health has potentially been impacted by natural gas development. This investigation, while overdue, is a critical next step if we want answers,” Innamorato said. “These families and the people who live in communities impacted by fracking deserve to have answers. They deserve to know if their worst fears are true. They deserve to know if they and their families have been poisoned in the name of corporate greed and profits.”

Over the last decade, at least 67 children in rural southwestern Pennsylvania have been diagnosed with rare childhood cancers, diagnoses that coincided with the rapid development of the Marcellus Shale gas fields across the Allegheny region. The rise in diagnoses came alongside a rise in complaints of adverse health conditions in communities near gas fields under development.

“We must move quickly and decisively to find out what is happening to our children and their families’ health, and then we must move to stop it, and to give them the support they so desperately deserve,” Innamorato said. “Your elected leaders should be in constant tension with private industry when people’s health and wellbeing are threatened — anything less is a dereliction of duty.”

According to the Department of Health announcement, the state will partner with an academic center to run two concurrent studies on different aspects of public health and natural gas development in the region.

The first study will look at the acute conditions, such as asthma and birth outcomes, that have previously showed some relationship to certain industries in published literature. The second project will be a case control study of childhood cancers, including Ewing Sarcoma, in response to concerns raised about the prevalence of rare cancers in the southwestern area of the state. This study is designed to show if those being diagnosed with Ewing Sarcoma tumors or childhood cancers are more often exposed to fracking than controls.  

The announcement regarding the studies came less than a week after Innamorato and state Sen. Katie Muth, D-Montgomery, hosted a legislative briefing on the diagnosis of rare childhood cancers in southwestern PA with organizations and families that have been affected by the issue.