South of Scotland MSP Joan McAlpine has called for impartial American academics who have studied the health effects of unconventional gas on a commercial scale to be included in the public health enquiry being set up by the Scottish Government.
Ms McAlpine said lay people and those living in affected communities should be included in the Public Health Impact Assessment – and that none of its members should have links to the industry.
She made her points in a letter to the public health minister Maureen Watt.
Ms McAlpine successfully campaigned for a moratorium on so called “unconventionals”, supporting constituents in Canonbie, where Buccleuch Estates and i-gas wanted to drill for methane gas.
She has welcomed the Public Health Impact Assessment commissioned by the Scottish Government and said it offered a further opportunity for Scotland to enhance its “safety first” reputation.
A health impact report by Public Health England last year on fracking was seen by many as ‘flawed and biased’. The report suggested the industry will pose a ‘low risk’ to public health – a view criticised by the British Medical Journal, academics and activists as “unsubstantiated”.
Ms McAlpine said:
“The Scottish Government has a much better record in this area than the UK. It has been more cautious and of course we are now the only part of the UK with a moratorium to protect threatened communities like Canonbie.
“We now have an opportunity to take this further by ensuring our own Public Health Impact Assessment is far more robust than the one set up by Public Health England. We must appoint truly impartial professionals to the enquiry. These should include American Academics who have studied the health impact of this technology on a commercial scale.
“None of the appointees should have links to the industry, even indirectly through consultancy work.
“It should also follow current good practise in health & safety and appoint lay people to the enquiry, including members of affected communities.”
Ms McAlpine added:
“I have total confidence that Scottish Ministers will ensure our public health impact assessment is conducted in the most stringently impartial manner.
“I believe there are lessons to be learned from the way PHE carried out their research and am highlighting them to the Public Health Minister”.
The PHE review concluded:
Public Health England anticipates a low risk to public health from direct releases of chemicals and radioactive material if shale gas extraction is properly operated and regulated.
This view was strongly disputed by the BMJ in an editorial calling the conclusions:
“A leap of faith unsubstantiated by scientific evidence, [the reports] authors suggest that many of the environmental and public health problems experienced in the US would probably not apply to the UK. Unfortunately, the conclusion that shale gas operations present a low risk to public health is not substantiated by the literature”.