Former health secretary: Pa. failed to address fracking concerns

07.14.14 | Bob Price

Former state health secretary, Dr. Eli Avila, is telling the Associated Press he believes Pennsylvania has failed to address public concerns related to natural gas development.

“The lack of any action speaks volumes,” Avila told the AP. “Don’t BS the public. Their health comes first.”

His comments come in the wake of an investigation by StateImpact Pennsylvania, which revealed health department employees were instructed in 2012 to forward drilling-related complaints to the agency’s Bureau of Epidemiology. Two former employees also say they were told not to respond to phone calls from people complaining about natural gas operations.

The Department of Health disputes their claims. A spokeswoman said there was never an effort to suppress information or not return phone calls, and that the department has tracked 51 drilling-related complaints since 2011 and followed up on all them– finding no evidence linking gas operations to illness.

 

Avila resigned from his post in 2012, amid a lawsuit from a Harrisburg restaurant stemming from an argument over an egg sandwich. He now works as the public health commissioner for Orange County, New York. He told the AP he believes Governor Corbett is a “good man” who has been hurt by political advisers who have kept him from hearing from health experts.

At a press conference earlier this month Corbett ignored questions from StateImpact Pennsylvania about the matter. His spokesman, Jay Pagni, later said the Governor’s Office had no role in the health department’s policies.

The Marcellus Shale Advisory Commission Corbett convened in 2011 recommended that the Department of Health create a population-based registry, but it was ultimately cut from the final legislation.

When asked by the Associated Press on Friday whether he supports creating a public registry of health complaints, Corbett said he was unaware of where the Department of Health stands on the issue.

“I’d have to know what they’ve been talking about before I can answer that,” he told the AP.