In June, Ohio adopted legislation governing fracking, but there are many concerns about the protections granted to oil companies and the powers entrusted at the state level. One concern is about the limits placed on health professionals who encounter health problems linked to fracking chemicals. Below is the actual text in the legislation about this so-called “physician gag rule”, along with a scenario to consider as an example of how things could go awry:
Sec 1509.07 (H)(1) If a medical professional, in order to assist in the diagnosis or treatment of an individual who was affected by an incident associated with the production operations of a well, requests the exact chemical composition of each product, fluid, or substance and of each chemical component in a product, fluid, or substance that is designated as a trade secret pursuant to division (I) of this section, the person claiming the trade secret protection pursuant to that division shall provide to the medical professional the exact chemical composition of the product, fluid, or substance and of the chemical component in a product, fluid, or substance that is requested.
(2) A medical professional who receives information pursuant to division (H)(1) of this section shall keep the information confidential and shall not disclose the information for any purpose that is not related to the diagnosis or treatment of an individual who was affected by an incident associated with the production operations of a well. Nothing in division (H)(2) of this section precludes a medical professional from making any report required by law or professional ethical standards.
The scenario: A vehicle accident on a major highway. A truck carrying brine from a hydraulic fracturing well to a disposal injection site is leaking large volumes of fluid. The fluid is in contact with a burning automobile. First responders find motorists with burns and difficulty breathing. It is not clear if the burns and shortness of breath are a result of injuries from the accident, chemical exposure from the spilled fluid, or a combination of both. With no MSD sheets, paramedics, police, and firemen do not know what dangers they may be exposed to or what measures they should take to treat the motorists. Is a HazMat team required? The injured motorists are taken to local Emergency Rooms, where the physicians do not know what chemicals their new patients have been exposed to. The physicians attempt to contact the Ohio Department of Natural Resources and the local Department of Health and learn the spilled material is not on record as it is a trade secret protected by SB 315. The physicians must contact the responsible company. Which corporate employee is authorized to release protected trade secrets? Will a person be available after normal working hours. Once the chemical contents of the fracking waste water is determined, under SB 315 the medical personnel may not pass the protected information on to anyone else unless required by law. If the motorists are taken to multiple hospitals will each hospital need to track down the protected information?
The greater health implications of injection wells to relate to chronic exposure of citizens living or working in proximity to the wells. Fracking fluid contains known carcinogens and toxins. Under the SB 315 “physician gag rule” information concerning medical experiences related to substances protected as trade secrets may not be shared with the public health and scientific community.
Are regulations needed to streamline obtaining chemical content of fracking waste water to assist first responders and medical professionals and create mechanisms for reporting findings to local health agencies and other health professionals when appropriate?