This week the Wall Street Journal published an article highlighting a spate of rare cancer cases discovered amongst a number of teens and young adults living in and around Washington County, Pennsylvania – just a relative stone’s throw from the Ohio Valley. Doctors are seeing a rare type of cancer, Ewing’s sarcoma, repeatedly popping up in this community and, naturally, there is huge cause for concern over the reasons for these findings.
Washington County leads the entire state of Pennsylvania in terms of the number of Marcellus Shale gas wells, and investigators are looking at oil and gas fracking as a potential cause of this proliferation of Ewing’s sarcoma cases. Annually, only about 250 cases of Ewing’s sarcoma cases are seen nationwide. However, in four counties in southwest Pennsylvania, 31 people were diagnosed with this cancer between 2006 and 2017 (with two more reported in 2018), a 40% increase in the historical rate, including 6 cases in Washington County since 2008 that have occurred in the same school district.
Although the Pennsylvania Department of Health opined in April that the number of cases were insufficient to declare the anomaly a cancer cluster, Washington County residents, quite understandably, have continued to pressure Pennsylvania officials for deeper investigation into the origins of these cancers and their possible relationship to natural gas fracking. Their efforts have not been in vein, and Pennsylvania plans to spend nearly $4 million over the next three years studying fracking’s relationship to Ewing’s sarcoma and other diseases.
Given Washington County’s similar industries (i.e. coal mining, oil and gas drilling, chemical plants) and close proximity to the Ohio Valley, these are studies for all of us to keep a very close eye on over the coming years, and I hope that these studies will ultimately lead to meaningful regulation to protect the health and welfare of our communities. In the meantime, if you’ve contracted cancer you believe is related to exposure to oil and gas operations, you should contact an experienced attorney right away to explore your rights.