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Fracking bombshell fuels Pa. chemical concerns

Plus, what the Pa. GOP actually thinks about contested audit push.


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Your Postmaster: Colin Deppen
July 20, 2021
'Forever chemicals,' official comments, health planning, breathing room, license revoked, veto skip, and a seven-year-old with 50,000 bees. It's Tuesday.
JOIN US: We're hosting a free virtual Q&A on Wednesday, July 28 at 5 p.m. ET about the millions of taxpayer dollars lawmakers spend on personal accommodations — expenses largely hidden from public view. Register here and submit your questions to events@spotlightpa.org.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency allowed oil and gas companies to use toxic "forever chemicals" known as PFAS in their fracking wells despite warnings from government scientists, new reporting finds.

Records obtained by the nonprofit Physicians for Social Responsibility found PFAS were approved for fracking in 2011, despite grave concerns about the risk to human health. 

The records don't include direct evidence that PFAS or their precursors were used in fracking in Pennsylvania, but it did find companies that drill for natural gas in Pennsylvania have used them in other states, per WHYY.

Pennsylvania law exempts energy companies from having to disclose the chemicals used in drilling here.

At the same time, the state is increasingly concerned about PFAS and spending large sums of money to root them out. 

THE CONTEXT: Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, better known as PFAS, are a class of thousands of man-made chemicals found in non-stick cookware, carpets, food packaging, and firefighting foam.

PFAS don't break down over time, hence the "forever" moniker, and exposure has been linked to cancers and prenatal conditions

Recent testing by Pennsylvania's Department of Environmental Protection uncovered PFAS in roughly a third of 400 public water sources tested, none above a federal threshold experts say is far too high to begin with. 

Pennsylvania has earmarked millions of dollars in recent years to study cancer risks associated with PFAS and millions more to treat PFAS-tainted water in Philadelphia's suburbs.

The newly uncovered link between the chemicals and fracking could potentially complicate the state's assessment of the risks here, not to mention its remediation plan.

The American Petroleum Institute, an energy industry trade group, told WHYY the use of PFAS by drillers is limited and only done "at extremely low levels." 

But an author of the Physicians for Social Responsibility report, Dusty Horwitt, said of Pennsylvania specifically, "We can’t be confident that we know everything that has been used."
Huge issues are being debated in Harrisburg, from voting changes to redistricting, that could have ramifications on our state for years to come. Now more than ever, we need unflinching investigative journalism in Pennsylvania.

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"We don’t find any evidence to support the theory that cannabis functions as a gateway drug." 

—Coleman Drake, assistant professor at Pitt and lead author of a new study on recreational cannabis and its impact on opioid-related ER visits
VACCINE UPDATE: Children from Pennsylvania, New York, and New Jersey are part of a clinical trial at Rutgers University on the safety and effectiveness of the Pfizer vaccine in children under the age of 12. For vaccine providers, use the federal government's online tool, call 1-800-232-0233, or text your ZIP code to 438829 (GETVAX).
>> THE HIDDEN TAB: Join us Wednesday, July 28 at 5 p.m. ET via Zoom for a free Q&A about Pennsylvania lawmakers spending millions of taxpayer dollars on personal accommodations, and how these expenses are obscured from the public. Register here and submit your questions to events@spotlightpa.org.
"Early morning dog romp often brings a lovely view of the eastern sun arising." Thanks, Pat K., for this shot of State Game Lands Number 145 in Colebrook, Lebanon County. Send us your hidden gems, use the hashtag #PAGems on Instagram, or tag us @spotlightpennsylvania.
ON THE RECORD: It's clear how Democrats feel about a Trump-backed forensic audit of recent elections in three Pennsylvania counties, but what about Republicans that control the legislature? WHYY asked and found a number in key positions support the idea, but plenty of questions remain about what exactly the audit should look like, especially with the widely derided blueprint still playing out in Arizona.

PRICE TAGS: Using wide-ranging pricing data obtained from 29 southwestern Pennsylvania hospitals via a federal health care transparency rule, the Post-Gazette built a database that allows users to compare rates insurers paid for as many as 70 common procedures. But, as we mentioned Monday, the paper's reporting found the vast majority of Pennsylvania hospitals aren't following that federal mandate.

CAP ROOM: A new state law allows Pennsylvania workers with disabilities to earn up to $61,000 a year before losing access to some of their medical assistance benefits, nearly doubling the existing threshold in an effort to address widespread unemployment and underemployment for recipients, The Center Square reports. State officials estimate the change will expand coverage for 1,000 Pennsylvania residents.
FAILED CARE: Months after Philadelphia's new psychiatric treatment facility for youth accepted its first child, the state has revoked its license, citing, among other allegations, "gross incompetence, negligence, and misconduct." Inspectors reported finding inappropriate restraints and "an unusual form of discipline" that amounted to child abuse, per The Inquirer. A state spokesperson noted "multiple rights violations."

VETO ID: State Rep. Ryan Warner (R., Fayette) wants to let voters decide a constitutional amendment that would effectively curtail the emergency powers of Pennsylvania's secretary of health, Capital-Star reports. The move follows a GOP-led ballot question that saw Gov. Tom Wolf's emergency powers reduced in May and joins a separate push to avoid the governor's veto pen with a ballot question on voter ID rules.
HOMECOMING: Remains of nine Native American children who died at a U.S.-run assimilation school in Carlisle more than a century ago have been returned to their South Dakota tribe for burial on its reservation. The Rosebud Sioux reclaimed the remains after a six-year effort, per the AP.

DEEP DIVE: Philly Fighting COVID's very public fall from grace touched off a massive scandal and put lives at greater risk during a deadly pandemic, a city-led investigation found. The sordid affair is the subject of a forthcoming podcast series called "Half Vaxxed" from WHYY. Listen to the trailer here.

BIG SHOT: Pittsburgh artist Mikael Owunna's stunning UV portraits of Black people are on display around the world and now much closer to home. WESA was with Owunna when he saw the first of four billboards featuring his work on Route 28. "I've never seen my work at such large scale," he exclaimed.

BEE COOL: Seven-year-old Kellan Borecky of Lancaster County has his own apiary with 50,000 honey bees and even dresses like them. According to LancasterOnline: "Asked if he wants to be a beekeeper when he grows up, Kellan confidently responded, 'I am a beekeeper,' emphasizing 'am.'"

TAX BUILD: Twenty-seven historic Pennsylvania buildings will get tax credits from the state to help with rehabs, restorations, and conversions. They include: a vacant train station in Wilkinsburg, two tobacco warehouses in Lancaster, a former vocational school in Philadelphia, and much more.
Unscramble and send your answer to scrambler@spotlightpa.org. We'll shout out winners here, and one each week will get some Spotlight PA swag.

Yesterday's answer: Trustworthy

Congrats to our daily winners: Beth T., Becky C., Craig W., Irene R., Neal W., Thomas B., Bob R., Yvette R., Barbara F., Joel S., Kimberly B., Mike B., Elaine C., Maureen G., Myles M., Heidi B., Karen W., Brian B., Kevin H., James B., Eddy Z., Janet C., Kim C., Diane P., Michelle T., Susan D., Deborah S., Steve D., Doris T., Eileen B., David I., Patricia M., Brandie K., David W., Don H., Dianne K., David S., Patricia R., Al M., Adrien M., Dennis M., Mary Ellen T., Karen W., Richard D., Jessica K., John P., Theodore W., Craig E., Marsha B., Mary Kay M., Elizabeth W., Catherine J., Guy M., Lance L., George S., Kathy C., Judy M., Carol D., and Tish M.
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