Two retired state health employees say they were instructed not to return phone calls from Pennsylvania residents who expressed health concerns about drilling the Marcellus Shale.
“We were absolutely not allowed to talk to them,” Tammi Stuck told State Impact.
Stuck, who worked as a community health nurse in Fayette County for nearly 36 years, says she was issued talking points to respond to questions from the public.
“There was a list of buzzwords we had gotten,” Stuck said. “There were some obvious ones like fracking, gas, soil contamination. There were probably 15 to 20 words and short phrases that were on this list. If anybody from the public called in and that was part of the conversation, we were not allowed to talk to them.”
Another retired employee, Marshall P. Deasy III, confirmed Stuck’s allegations.
If a caller inquired about drilling Stuck says she and other employees were told to take their name and number and hand it over to a supervisor.
“And somebody was supposed to call them back and address their concerns,” she said, noting that she’s unsure whether these call backs ever occurred.
Deasy, who worked for the health department for 20 years, said “community health wasn’t told to be silent on any other topic that I can think of.”
“People were saying: Where’s the Department of Health on all this?” Stuck said. “The bottom line was we weren’t allowed to say anything. It’s not that we weren’t interested.”
Deasy, who worked in the Bureau of Epidemiology in Harrisburg, said community health nurses told him they were not allowed to respond to complaints about fracking.
The Department of Health confirmed that gas drilling complaints were logged in a database but denied any list of “buzzwords” was circulated.
“Typically, the protocol is that when a call comes in, they log the information and they contact the Bureau of Epidemiology here who follows up directly with that individual,” said department spokesperson Aimee Tysarczyk. “If there’s a physician involved, then they will follow up with the physician.”
More than 6,000 wells have been drilled in the Marcellas Shale in the last six years, making it the fastest growing natural gas production in the country.