Physicians for Social Responsibility New York
Regional chapters of Physicians for Social Responsibility across New York have come together to form a statewide PSR chapter, PSR-NY. We’re now a stronger, unified voice for health and peace.
135 E 83rd St. #6E
New York, New York 10028
Alfred Meyer - New York, NY
Larysa Dyrszka, MD - Bethel, NY
Shannon Gearhart, MD, MPH - Brooklyn, NY
Kathy Nolan, MD - Woodstock, NY
Barton Schoenfeld, MD, FACC - Hudson, NY
Lauren Zajac, MD, MPH - New York, NY
Climate change is one of the biggest threats to human and planetary health today. Climate-related health effects are growing in incidence and severity. Learn more about them here.
EPA Clean Power Plan
In 2014 the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released its proposed Clean Power Plan to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions from power plants 30% by 2030, especially from coal-fired plants, which are a leading source of carbon emissions. Here’s a map of the EPA’s proposed greenhouse gas emission reduction targets for each state. It calls for New York to cut its emissions 44% by 2030. Under the Clean Power Plan each state will create a State Implementation Plan by June 2016, laying out how it can meet its carbon reduction targets.
In a PSR webinar, Jonathan Levy, ScD, of Boston University School of Public Health, presented the study he coauthored quantifying state-by-state health benefits from implementing the EPA’s Clean Power Plan.
Representing Health Concerns at the People's Climate March
PSR-NY members were part of the health professional contingent of the People’s Climate March, held September 21st, 2014 in New York City, joining other healthcare professionals and health advocates to represent health and mental health concerns.
"On Sept. 20, 2014, PSR-NY members joined other healthcare professionals and health advocates to represent health and mental health concerns at the People’s Climate March in New York City. I walked as a New Yorker, a doctor and a proud member of Physicians for Social Responsibility.
It was awesome and powerful to be part of an event with more than 400,000 people participating. Together we formed the largest environmental march in history."
-Shannon Gearhart, MD, MPH
Collaborating and Likeminded Organizations
New York Climate and Health Project, Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health
Time Magazine, “Rebranding Climate Change as a Public Health Issue”
Links Between Climate and Health, Climate 911
A Victory Worth Celebrating, Yet the Fight Is Not Over
Governor Cuomo’s decision to ban fracking in New York State is a historic victory. The New York health community is pleased that we were able to have a dialogue with our state government, and that science and public health concerns prevailed here.
But our work is not done. In addition to about 23.5 million cubic feet of natural gas extracted annually from conventional gas and oil wells in our state, New York is a transit hub for getting fracked shale gas to market. Pipelines and compressors are being built or expanded, and we know from residents in Pennsylvania that this infrastructure causes negative human health impacts. Waste from drilling operations in Pennsylvania has made its way to New York for disposal, and imported fracking wastes have been spread on New York’s roads. There are toxic chemicals and radioactive elements in that waste.
New York’s gas pipelines, compressor stations and storage facilities bringing in fracked gas from out-of-state leak methane, a powerful greenhouse gas, and other chemicals, causing health and environmental impacts. For a PSR-NY roundup of useful scientific sources you can investigate on fracking’s health impacts, read this.
Findings on Fracking in New York
New York’s decision to ban fracking is a huge victory, but there is more work to be done, for example, to identify and prevent harm from fracking chemicals still spread on New York’s roads. Our colleagues at Concerned Health Professionals of NY prepared a useful compendium of scientific, medical and other findings on risks and harms of fracking.
Read the Compendium of Scientific, Medical, and Media Findings Demonstrating Risks and Harms of Fracking and Associated Gas and Oil Infrastructure, 8th Edition (April 2022) by Concerned Health Professionals of New York and PSR National.
For more information on fracking:
- A Public Health Review of High Volume Hydraulic Fracturing for Shale Gas Development (December 2014) from New York State Department of Health
- Resource page on Hydraulic Fracturing from PSR-National
What Are Some of Fracking’s Impacts?
Unconventional gas operations involving hydro-fracking are intensive industrial processes, and have been shown to cause environmental problems and adverse health impacts, including:
- Chemical Exposures – many toxic chemicals and mixtures of chemicals are used in fracking fluids, without requirements for disclosure. Silica sand used in the process can cause lung disease. Thousands of trucks are involved, increasing particulate pollution, risk of chemical spills and traffic accidents.
- Water – The vast amounts of water fracking uses may deplete fresh water aquifers, which can devastate aquatic ecologies and drinking water supplies. Fracking infrastructure lacks adequate ways of disposing of toxic waste and contaminations of springs, streams and other water resources via spills and releases occur.
- Impacts from Drilling and Fracturing – Aquifers can become contaminated because of well casing failure, migration of fluid through faults, and accidental or deliberate spills. Air pollutants and ozone are generated by diesel transport vehicles and during drilling. Induced seismic activity at varying levels of intensity can cause new subsurface faults and create surface safety hazards.
- Completion, Flaring and Transport – In addition to fracking chemicals, carcinogenic radionuclides can contaminate leaking gases, and along with heavy metals, they are present in flowback water and drill cuttings. In some cases, radon and its radioactive decay products may contaminate pipelines and pose a hazard to end-users. Gas drilling and transport leak methane, a powerful greenhouse gas. Additional air pollutants and ozone are generated by venting, flaring and processing, and at compressor stations.
A Case in Point: Seneca Lake
Even though fracking will be banned from New York State, downstream impacts from the fracking industry are still causing impacts here. For example, a merger of Inergy LP and the Texas company Crestwood Midlands proposes to turn long-abandoned depleted salt caverns on Seneca Lake (in between Syracuse and Rochester) into an “integrated natural gas storage and transportation hub in the Northeast,” including facilities for storing liquefied propane and butane, and to expand natural gas storage there. This entails injecting gas under high pressure directly into the caverns, and replacing withdrawn gas with brine many times saltier than seawater. The site’s geology is risky and the plan threatens Seneca Lake and public health. PSR-NY is standing with colleagues and citizens’ groups fighting the project.
Round Up of Useful Scientific Sources on Fracking Health Effects
On December 17th, 2014, Acting New York State Department of Health Commissioner Zucker, having analyzed reams of peer-reviewed papers, consulted with three out-of-state experts, and visited several states where gas drilling and fracking were underway, stated decisively that he could not recommend that high volume hydraulic fracturing be allowed in the great state of New York.
Towards the end of the health review are insightful summaries written by experts including Lynn Goldman from Washington DC, John Adgate from Colorado and Dick Jackson from California. All three were asked to comment on whether a Health Impact Assessment (HIA) would be useful. Of the three, only John Adgate didn’t think so, but his group already conducted an excellent HIA (abandoned in a second draft) with useful information, posted here.
Just before the decision on fracking was made, two analyses by independent health groups were made public and shared with the NYS Department of Health. The first was from our New York colleagues at the energy think-tank Physicians, Scientists and Engineers for Healthy Energy, posted here. They analyzed relevant peer-reviewed literature on fracking and found 96% of all papers on health effects indicate risks/adverse health outcomes; 95% of all original research studies on air quality indicate elevated concentrations of air pollutants; 72% of original research studies on water quality indicate contamination or risk of contamination.
Another group, Concerned Health Professionals of New York (CHPNY), which includes several PSR-NY members, started its campaign on fracking about four years ago by asking the NYS Department of Health to get involved, and to do a Health Impact Assessment. Those are documented in CHPNY letters posted here.
CHPNY and PSR released a new edition of the “Compendium of Scientific, Medical, and Media Findings of Risks and Harms of Fracking (Unconventional Gas and Oil Extraction),” available here. It documents the recent explosion in peer-reviewed publications on fracking, nearly three quarters of which were published in the past 24 months.
Video of the NYS Cabinet meeting where the fracking decision was discussed (the fracking discussion starts 41 minutes in).
Dr. Rob Mackenzie, MD, FACHE, “Independent High-Level Quantitative Risk Analysis Schuyler County Liquid Petroleum Gas Storage Proposal“
Nuclear power and nuclear weapons are serious public health threats. PSR-NY is active on nuclear power issues locally, nationally and globally, and also engages on nuclear weapons and disarmament issues.
Closing Indian Point
PSR-NY is supporting a New York City Council Resolution calling for closure of the aging, troubled Indian Point nuclear reactors. Indian Point is located just 35 miles north of New York City, with 20 million people living and working within a 50-mile radius. The evacuation plan for a radiological accident at Indian Point covers only a ten-mile “keyhole” area downwind, which means there’s no evacuation provision for New York City or the rest of the tri-state area.
Recent changes in the City Council make us hopeful it will make a clear statement that New York City doesn’t want to continue to risk the public health and safety threats posed by Indian Point—especially when the plant is selling most of its power out of state, and plenty of electricity is available from other sources that don’t produce radioactive emissions and nuclear waste.
Opposing Subsidies for Ginna
PSR-NY also opposes current efforts by Constellation Energy to make ratepayers pay subsidies to keep the Ginna nuclear reactor near Rochester operating. Ginna is the third-oldest operating reactor in the US, and has been losing hundreds of millions of dollars in the past few years. Instead of forcing ratepayers to subsidize a private corporation endangering their health, we should cease producing high-level nuclear waste and eliminate the dangers of an accident at Ginna.
Confronting Health Effects from Nuclear Power
Nationally, PSR-NY is part of a PSR team engaged with the US Environmental Protection Agency’s “Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking” for radiation exposure standards regarding nuclear power operators. We’re also part of an international NGO effort to determine the health effects of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster. PSR and IPPNW members produced a critique of the official report authored by the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation (UNSCEAR) that soft-pedaled health effects from Fukushima.
The growing worldwide movement for nuclear disarmament continued to build momentum at the December 2014 ICAN Conference on the Humanitarian Impacts of Nuclear Weapons held in Vienna, Austria, where PSR’s Ira Helfand and Catherine Thomasson spoke. More than 150 countries are pushing the nuclear weapons states to honor their obligation under the Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT) to give up their nuclear arsenals.
Collaborating and Likeminded Organizations
PSR-NY advocates for the development of safe, renewable energy sources in New York. We’re helping develop a step-by-step road map for the state to transition from burning extracted and refined carbon and nuclear fuel to renewable energy sources.
Renewable Portfolio Standard
New York State is in the process of reviewing its renewable portfolio standard. Renewable energy portfolios call for percentages of the total energy produced in the state to be from renewable sources. PSR-NY is working to make sure key decision-makers hear from New Yorkers as these plans are reviewed and updated, so they can register popular support for shifting to renewable energy.
Roadmap to a Clean Energy Future
PSR-NY is working with the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research and the Alliance for A Green Economy to help develop a step-by-step road map to transition from our current reliance on burning extracted and refined carbon and nuclear fuel to renewable energy sources.
Collaborating and Likeminded Organizations
PSR-NY is committed to reducing exposure to toxic chemicals in the environment, especially among the most vulnerable populations like pregnant women, children, and farm workers and their families. We’re working to engage PSR-NY members on policy and regulatory issues related to toxic exposures.
Nationally, PSR works to reduce toxic exposures through chemical policy reform and practitioner education.
One resource for reducing exposures is PSR's Pediatric Environmental Health Toolkit, an easy-to-use reference guide for health providers. It contains user-friendly health education materials and curriculum for training trainers on preventing exposures to toxic chemicals and other substances that affect health. The Toolkit was re-released in 2017 with updated information on emerging chemicals of concern.
Violence Prevention and Social Justice
Gun violence and death and injury from firearms is a serious public health problem, which disproportionately affect young people, lower-income people, and communities of color.
Firearms were used in about half of the 475,000 murders committed worldwide in 2012.
On average, 33,000 Americans are killed with guns each year. Each day in the U.S., 86 civilians, including five children under the age of 18, die from firearms–more than three firearm deaths an hour. The U.S. has seven times the average firearm-related homicide rate of other high-income countries. And that doesn’t even include the many thousands more wounded by firearms.
Gun violence is one of the leading causes of death among American teens. In 2010, more than half of those murdered with guns in the U.S. were under the age of 30. The gun-homicide rate for black males is 2.4 times higher than for Latino males, and 15.3 times higher than for non-Hispanic white males.
Preventing Gun Violence
PSR-NY has joined forces with New Yorkers Against Gun Violence as part of the New York State Coalition to Prevent Child Access to Guns, which builds support for Nicholas’s Law, a State law which would require safe storage and help prevent child access to firearms in New York. Sign the petition to call for safer gun storage here. On the national front, we’re also starting to work with the National Physicians Alliance’s Advocacy Taskforce on Gun Violence Prevention.
Arms Trade Treaty
Members of PSR-NY work with the Aiming for Prevention program of International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW). Through this work, we advocated American policymakers in urging a strong humanitarian-based Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) at the United Nations in New York City.
We were successful! After being ratified by a 50th country in September 2014, the ATT officially went into implementation on December 24, 2014. The U.S. signed the ATT in September 2013, but we need your help to work towards ratification by the Senate. Please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org to find out how you can help.
Collaborating and Likeminded Organizations
- National Physicians Alliance and Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence report: Gun Safety & Public Health: Policy Recommendations for a More Secure America
- New York vs. Federal Gun Laws comparison
- Center for American Progress – Top 10 Reasons Why Communities of Color Should Care About Stricter Gun-Violence Prevention Laws
- Washington Post “The Racial Divide in America’s Gun Deaths”
- Center for American Progress – “Young Guns: How Gun Violence Is Devastating the Millennial Generation”