Expert to Discuss Potential Health Effects of Hydrofracking

July 08, 2011

The potential health effects of hydraulic fracturing or hydrofracking – a natural gas extraction technique currently under heavy scrutiny in upstate New York and other areas of the country – will be the subject of a public talk by an environmental health expert later this month.

Bernard Goldstein, M.D., an expert on air quality and environmental health and professor of public health at the University of Pittsburgh, will speak about the public health implications of hydrofracking at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, July 20, in the Class of 1962 Auditorium at the University of Rochester Medical Center. The talk is free and open to the public.

The benefits and costs of hydrofracking are under heavy debate in upstate New York, which sits atop large natural gas reserves know as the Marcellus and Utica shale formations. The technique relies on water and chemicals injected under very high pressure into deep rock formations thousands of feet underground as a way to free up natural gas. Proponents and critics are debating the benefits, including jobs and access to large energy reserves, vs. potential contamination of ground and surface water, concerns about air quality, and other environmental and social consequences. Just last week, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation released proposed regulations about hydrofracking.

While vigorous discussion is taking place about the environmental and economic impacts of hydrofracking, potential health impacts are often overlooked, said Katrina Korfmacher, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Environmental Medicine and the event organizer.

“There are many voices taking part in this debate, for or against hydrofracking, but there really hasn’t been much discussion about the public health impact of the technology,” said Korfmacher. “Dr. Goldstein will help us focus on the potential health effects, which really need to be part of the discussion.”

Goldstein’s talk is being held in the Class of ’62 Auditorium, part of the Kornberg Medical Research Building at the west end of the Medical Center complex. Limited parking for a fee will be available in the MRB parking lot. Paid parking will also be available in the medical center parking garage, and free parking is available after 7 p.m. on the University’s River Campus. Visitors who park either in the parking garage or on River Campus should give themselves an extra 10 to 15 minutes to walk to the auditorium.

Goldstein’s visit to Rochester is sponsored by the University’s Environmental Health Sciences Center and the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences.

Goldstein is a member of the Institute of Medicine, one of the highest honors that can be accorded to a physician. At the University of Pittsburgh he holds a variety of posts, including professor of Environmental and Occupational Health and interim director of the Center for Healthy Environments and Communities, which runs “FracTracker,” a web site that citizens use to share natural gas drilling stories, pictures, and data.

The former dean of the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health and former EPA assistant administrator for research and development, Goldstein is active internationally on issues regarding the environment. In recent years he has looked at the health consequences of last year’s Gulf oil spill, analyzed the effects of chemicals like benzene and formaldehyde on human health, and has studied the potential effects of nanoparticles on health. He has led a number of efforts investigating environmental issues for organizations such as the National Research Council, the Institute of Medicine, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the World Health Organization. 

Following his talk at the Medical Center, Goldstein will head to Geneva, where he is taking part in a conference on Marcellus Shale development being organized by the Finger Lakes Institute at Hobart and William Smith Colleges July 21-22. More information on that conference is at http://events.r20.constantcontact.com/register/event?oeidk=a07e3uli70ld6335655&llr=6tkitjfab.

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