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Doctors Fighting Gag Rule in Pennsylvania

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iStock_000003455183XSmallIf you’ve been exposed to dangerous fracking chemicals, your doctor can find out what these chemicals are—but can’t tell you! Action Alert!

As we reported last year, fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, is a method of natural gas extraction employed in deep natural gas well drilling that can threaten water supplies. Once a well is drilled, millions of gallons of water, sand, and 596 different proprietary chemicals are injected under high pressure into the well shaft. The pressure fractures the shale and opens fissures that enable natural gas to flow more freely out.
The chemicals enter the water table and the air, causing severe pollution. As proponents of integrative medicine know, the body’s chemical burden, due in great measure to environmental pollutants, may trigger or worse many diseases—and some of the chemicals released during the fracking process are particularly toxic. They include:

  • benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, and xylene, which in low levels can cause drowsiness, dizziness, rapid heart rate, headaches, tremors, confusion, and unconsciousness, and in high concentrations can cause leukemia and death;
  • barium, which is found in underground ore deposits and can cause high blood pressure, breathing difficulties, muscle weakness, swelling of the brain, and kidney damage;
  • radium, a naturally occurring radioactive (and carcinogenic) substance; and
  • strontium, which is necessary in trace amounts for bone development, but in too large amounts can disrupt it and cause cancer.

Then there’s the question of what to do with the contaminated water. Standard procedure is to use disposal wells drilled deep into the earth; each well uses about 4.5 million gallons of chemical-laced water. Many experts believe that the use of these disposal wells is creating earthquakes—and data from Midwest shows that it is happening more often than originally thought. A US Geological Survey report found that the frequency of earthquakes started rising in 2001 across a broad swath of the country between Alabama and Montana. In 2009, there were 50 earthquakes greater than magnitude-3.0, then 87 quakes in 2010. The 134 earthquakes in the zone last year is a sixfold increase over 20th century levels.
So what if your physician believes you may be ill from fracking chemicals, but needs to know which ones to make sure your diagnosis and treatment are correct? A Pennsylvania law signed earlier this year allows physicians to access information about the proprietary chemicals being used (which are protected by trade secrets) so they can help their patients who are sick from the chemicals. But here’s the catch: they have to sign a confidentiality agreement that they won’t tell anyone else—not you their patients, and not even other doctors—what’s in those formulas. It’s being called the “doctor gag rule.”
The Pennsylvania gag rule is strikingly similar to a law in Colorado—which also influenced laws in Texas and Ohio. In Colorado there was near silence on the issue. The Texas Medical Association actually endorsed the doctor gag rule!
Happily, such quiet compliance at the expense of citizens’ health doesn’t have to be the norm in other states. A new bill has been introduced in Pennsylvania that would remove the gag rule. HB 2415 allows the health professional to disclose information on the chemicals to anyone she or he determines is necessary for the patient’s diagnosis or treatment—whether that be another health professional, the patient, or a public health official.
The Pennsylvania bill is currently in the state’s Environmental Resources and Energy Committee. If you are a Pennsylvania resident, contact your legislators immediately and voice your support for HB 2415. Restore your doctor’s freedom of speech and your right to know about what is making you sick! Please take action today!

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