The University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health has been awarded a $2.5 million contract by Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration to research the potential health effects of hydraulic fracturing in the state.

Throughout the next two years, this funding will be used for two epidemiological studies.

One will be performed by Evelyn Talbott, professor of epidemiology at Pitt Public Health and director of the Environmental Epidemiology section, who has more than 35 years of experience in researching cancer and other health issues.

“Dr. Talbott will investigate the relationship between hydraulic fracturing and the development of childhood cancers in southwestern Pennsylvania,” a release from the governor’s office said.

The other study will be performed by Jeanine Buchanich, director of the Pitt Public Health’s Center for Occupational biostatistics and Epidemiology and research associate professor of biostatistics.

Her goal is to “replicate earlier studies on acute conditions, such as asthma and birth outcomes, using data from southwestern Pennsylvania.”

“As a lifelong resident of southwestern Pennsylvania with much of my research focusing on environmental health in the area, I am personally and professionally committed to a systematic investigation of the health effects of hydraulic fracturing,” Buchanich said.

The partnership between the university and state stems from a March report released by Pennsylvania health officials on childhood and total cancer rates in connection to counties with fracking for Fayette, Greene, Washington and Westmoreland counties for the 1995 to 2004 and 2005 to 2017 time frames.

Although there was not much statistical difference, an increase in Ewing’s tumors – a rare bone and tissue cancer that usually affects individuals ages 10 to 20 – was discovered for those counties compared to the rest of the commonwealth – especially in women.

“We have heard the concerns from families and community members impacted by cancer and other health issues in the southwestern part of the state and we are dedicated to taking the proper steps to keep our residents healthy,” state Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine said. 

“We are committed to a healthy Pennsylvania for all and efforts that prevent injury and disease in the state. This essential research project is a testament to that.”

Additionally, the university will produce publicly accessible summaries on a quarterly basis, provide a progress update at the end of the first year and hold a public meeting on the final outcomes of the research.

Joshua Byers is a reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter @Journo_Josh.

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