When There Is No Epidemiologist

May 2, 2013
1:00 pm US Eastern Time

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Communities and individuals residing in areas where rapid environmental changes are occurring because of extractive industry development are concerned about health problems that might be linked to environmental degradation. This concern has led to community-based health surveys that have produced valuable information about possible health problems associated with mountaintop mining and with oil and gas extraction.

Epidemiological studies that require many years of observation as well as sufficiently large budgets to fund long-term research projects are valuable in exploring cause-and-effect relationships, but they may move too slowly to benefit recently impacted communities, to inform health providers about possible new health care needs or to provide information in a timely fashion to decision makers charged with industrial development oversight and health policy design and implementation.

Two recent studies document community efforts to measure community health, using the principles of community based participatory research. On this CHE call Dr. Wilma Subra discusses her work with communities located near drilling/fracking sites; Dr. Michael Hendryx describes his work in Appalachian mountaintop mining communities, making the case that community health research studies can provide relevant information for informed decision making concerning extractive industry regulation; and Luis Olmedo discusses his work with Imperial Visions Action Network assisting citizens in addressing environmental problems while also helping them understand government's limitations and capabilities. With few exceptions, oil and gas industries are not required to present potential health impact assessment prior to extraction activities, and this gap can be rectified in part by community-based research.

Featured Speakers

Wilma Subra is president of Subra Company and provides technical assistance to citizens, across the United States and in some foreign countries, concerned with their environment and human health by combining technical research and evaluation.This information is then presented to community members so that strategies may be developed to address their local struggles. She has a Bachelor of Science and Master of Science in microbiology and chemistry from the University of Southwestern Louisiana (University of Louisiana at Lafayette). She has over 45 years of experience in sampling and chemical and microbiologic analysis of ground water and surface water resources, monitoring of impacts on water resources, monitoring the environmental impacts of oil and gas drilling and production activities, oil and gas waste treatment and disposal practices and associated environmental and human health impacts, environmental and human health impacts of injection well operations, analysis of chemical components in drilling fluids, pit construction and resulting contamination from pit operations, and environmental and human health impacts of shale development. Ms. Subra’s current work is focused on the environmental impacts of various aspects of shale development, the human health impacts associated with various specific units and activities of shale development, the development of appropriate parameters for monitoring ground water and surface water resources to detect impacts of shale development, and the development of guidelines for the regulation of state programs dealing with shale gas development.   

Dr. Michael Hendryx is the research director for the West Virginia University Institute for Health Policy Research. He has been with the Institute and WVU since September 2006. He is also an associate professor in the Department of Community Medicine at WVU. Michael earned his doctorate in psychology from Northwestern University in 1986 and completed a post-doctoral fellowship in methodology at the University of Chicago. He previously served on the faculty at the University of Iowa and at Washington State University. His research interests focus on social and health disparities, especially in coal mining areas of Appalachia. He has published approximately 75 peer-reviewed articles and book chapters. Dr. Hendryx teaches the Health Policy course in the Community Medicine MPH program.

Luis Olmedo is the executive director of Comite Civico del Valle, an organization whose mission focuses on addressing environmental health-related problems in the farm worker community. Luis has an established reputation as a leading community activist and advises local, regional, and state programs on environmental health issues affecting rural communities in California. Olmedo and Comite Civico have launch a crowdsourcing project called IVAN (Imperial Visions Action Network) which maintains an interactive website which county residents use to report environmental problems. The website alerts the California Department of Toxic Substance Control to problems that the DTSC then investigates and makes recommendations for action. IVAN has been extremely effective in enforcement of environmental regulations and in helping citizens solve environmental problems once they understand government limitations and capabilities.

The call is moderated by Sharyle Patton, director of Commonweal's Biomonitoring Resource Center.The call lasts one hour and was recorded.