A project aimed at establishing a benchmark of regional residents’ health reinforced something already known — Northeastern Pennsylvania residents, generally speaking, are not very healthy.
The study, conducted by the Scranton-based Northeast Regional Cancer Institute, was done so the effects of the Marcellus Shale industry on the region’s health can be gauged in the future.
“We wanted to create a baseline on the health of the community to use as a benchmark against future studies to see what effects, if any, and to what extent the industry will have had on the region’s health,” said Bob Durkin, president of the Cancer Institute.
Dr. Samuel Lesko, principal investigator for the survey, said a variety of issues related to “fracking” and other processes used to produce natural gas have contributed to community concerns about potential adverse health outcomes.
“The data we collected can be used as a reference point to compare the health of the community in the future should these concerns continue or grow,” Lesko said. “Although we gathered this data with the primary purpose of serving as a baseline for possible future investigations, it became apparent that risk factors for poor health such as tobacco use, lack of health insurance and obesity are all common in the community.
“Putting potential concerns about Marcellus Shale drilling aside, he said, “this is not a community on track for better health.”
Durkin said there was nothing shocking about the findings.
“The fact is we smoke at an incredible level in Northeast Pennsylvania,” Durkin said. “The national average for smokers is 18 percent. Here in Northeast Pennsylvania, about 50 percent of people are current or former smokers.”
The survey documents the health status of residents of Bradford, Lackawanna, Luzerne, Lycoming, Sullivan, Susquehanna, Tioga, Wayne and Wyoming counties. A total of 458 individuals took part in the survey, answering questions about themselves, their medical histories, where they have lived, drinking water sources, and personal habits that are known to affect health.
In addition to the health data collected, the Cancer Institute also evaluated the willingness of the community to participate in similar research in the future. A sizable majority of participants noted that they were willing to be part of additional health-related research studies.
“The indication that the community is willing to be a part of further research efforts is a very positive finding,” said Durkin. “The Community Health Survey is a model and foundation for future studies that can continue to give us a better picture of the health of our community and ways to improve it.”
The study cost $75,000 and was funded through the state Department of Public Welfare.