The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA


February 19, 2013

Degenstein Foundation gives $1 million to Geisinger for study of drilling effects

DANVILLE —  Geisinger Health System’s study of the effects of Marcellus Shale drilling on Pennsylvanians’ health is getting a $1 million boost from the Degenstein Foundation of Sunbury, the Danville-based medical organization announced Monday.

“We think it’s a real important thing for the Susquehanna Valley region to have an neutral study” about health and drilling, Degenstein Foundation co-trustee Michael Apfelbaum told The Daily Item on Monday.

The foundation’s board decided on the amount, “recognizing we had to provide enough money to have some very good players at the table to complete this study,” he said.

Geisinger announced the study in May while preparing to comb through hundreds of thousands of patient records dating back to 2004 for clues into the public health effects of the natural gas drilling industry in Pennsylvania.

Most of the grant money will underwrite an data infrastructure system to collect information. On this project, Geisinger is collaborating with Guthrie Health in Sayre and Susquehanna Health in Williamsport.

The study will look at detailed health histories of hundreds of thousands of patients who live near the Marcellus Shale, a rock formation in which energy companies have drilled about 5,000 natural gas wells.

Sayre is in Bradford County, which has seen the most wells drilled in the Northern Tier. Williamsport is in Lycoming County, which comes close to Bradford in the number of wells.

These three will devise the study’s planning and execution, including creating a health surveillance network to collect, assess and report on patient data secured via electronic health records.

Some grant funds, along with funds from other sources, will help develop strategic studies of the data gathered.

Apfelbaum said Geisinger’s research on natural gas drilling fits perfectly with the foundation’s mission to carry out the charitable wishes of its founder, the late Charles Degenstein.

“Our overall goal is to have projects that improve the lives of people in the Susquehanna Valley region as well as the extended area,” he said. “We recognize that volunteer and charitable organizations and projects that impact people individually are very important.”

Some of the first topics of the study likely will be asthma, trauma and cardiovascular disease, said Geisinger spokeswoman Amanda O’Rourke. First results of analysis may be realized within the year, while other research findings will unfold over five, 10 or 20 years of study, and very possibly longer than that.

Apfelbaum said the foundation board will re-evaluate the study for future contributions.

“We feel great about this project,” he said. “One of the unique things is that this (study) will be long-term project, and we believe natural resource drilling is long-term project as well that needs careful study.”

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