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New Yorkers have a right to know the health impacts

As a mother of two children who narrowly survived permanent health damage from Love Canal chemical exposures, and as a pediatrician currently residing in upstate New York and advocating on behalf of children's health, we have become increasingly concerned about the health impacts of industrial gas exploration and extraction using high-volume, slick water horizontal hydraulic fracturing, also known as "fracking."

Throughout the country, health impacts ranging from loss of smell, memory problems and headaches to serious respiratory illnesses and cancers have been associated with fracking operations.

New York State may be on the verge of allowing fracking on a large scale across the state. Yet, despite all of the information indicating that there will be negative impacts on our communities and public health from fracking, our elected officials have not yet studied the potential health impacts to identify the risks involved.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has stated repeatedly that science will drive New York's decision on whether to proceed with this extreme form of fossil fuel extraction. But on the issue of health, the science hasn't been done. The New York State Assembly has called for an independent health impact assessment on fracking by including an appropriation in its budget proposal. The State Senate and the governor should follow suit and ensure that this critical study is funded in the final budget.

This reasonable request has also been made by the Medical Society of the State of New York, the New York State Nurses Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics of New York State, the New York State Academy of Family Physicians, Healthy Schools Network, public health professionals, medical doctors and tens of thousands of New Yorkers concerned about their communities.

As chairman of the Senate's Environmental Conservation Committee and member of the Budget Conference Committee, Buffalo's own Mark Grisanti has a critical role to play. He can and should fight for this appropriation in the Senate and the governor's office.

New York is in a unique position nationwide; horizontal fracking hasn't begun and we have the time to gather the science so that the best decisions are made. If we don't take this opportunity, but instead allow fracking to proceed without examining the health impacts to our communities and residents, we will have lost the chance to safeguard the health and safety of New Yorkers.

We call on Cuomo, Grisanti and all of our elected officials to support an independent assessment of fracking's impacts on health -- before it is too late.

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Lois Marie Gibbs is founder and executive director of the Center for Health, Environment and Justice. Larysa Melnyk Dyrszka is a pediatrician.