The impact of hydraulic fracturing on the public's health still needs to be studied, said Dr. Alan Ducatman.

Ducatman, West Virginia University School of Public Health dean, made the point during a program held Tuesday at Ohio Valley Medical Center in Wheeling. The program, "Marcellus Shale Drilling: A Health Perspective," was hosted by the Ohio County Medical Society, OVMC and the Wheeling Area Chamber of Commerce.

Other speakers included Dr. William Mercer, Wheeling-Ohio County health officer; Lou Vargo, Wheeling-Ohio County Emergency Management Agency director; and lawyers Christopher Riley and Denise Pentino from the Dinsmore and Shohl firm. The event was moderated by Robin Capehart, West Liberty University president.

Ducatman said things that could be impacted are people's water, air and their environment in general, such as their roads and homes. For example, some patients, including some Marcellus Shale gas drilling workers, have come into his clinic with a variety of complaints. Workers have had acid burns or other skin irritations. But such complaints or issues are common in industry in general, he added.

Others patients complain about noise from well pad sites and related trucking, and still others about air pollution and bright lights from sites keeping them awake at night.

"The industry should get out in front of these issues," Ducatman said, referring to initiating health studies.

Locally, people have expressed concern about the potential impact on their well and spring water, which has led to health departments offering water testing services for $235. Officials have suggested people have their water tested before, during and after drilling has occurred on or near their property.

Local people also have complained about air quality near drilling sites. Ducatman believes air quality also should be tested.

"They should get before, during and after measurements as we do with other industries," he said.

Mercer noted the health department has collected water samples from about 10 residents' drinking wells. The health department also continues to follow up on complaints related to contaminated water and air. He said the state Department of Environmental Protection can visit a well site, but that is something the health department also is looking into doing.

"We just aren't sure about the impact on public health, but we're taking it very seriously. Hopefully it's not going to be a problem here, but we don't know," Mercer said.

Vargo said the EMA has disaster response plans for each well site in Ohio County. In gas drilling fires, the role of the local firefighter is much different than in other fires. For example, in a gas fire a professional well fire company, such as Boots and Coots, is called in to extinguish the blaze, while the local firefighters' role is to keep the workers cool by hosing them down with water. Vargo said firefighters learned much from wells fires that occurred in Marshall County.

"It was unbelievable to hear that noise and to see how bright that flame was from a half-mile away," Vargo said of the staging area near a Marshall County well fire.

Pentino outlined her role as a defense lawyer for oil and gas companies. She said in other states, people - including firefighters, well workers and residents - are filing medical monitoring claims. This means a person believes they have been exposed to something, such as a chemical, that they believe will eventually cause them to develop a disease. Because of this fear, she said, the person wants to be monitored by a doctor and have that monitoring paid for by the company they claim is responsible.

Riley talked about gas leases and issues many people are now considering in addition to money, such as the environment. For example, people are including clauses that companies must have noise and light buffers at their sites, along with requiring recycling of water and other waste. He also recommends people get pollution liability insurance in case their lease is transferred to another company.

"You don't want an impoundment used for capture of fracking fluid," Riley said, noting companies can recycle the fluid or have it transported to an injection well.

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