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Developing Standard Operating Procedures to Analyze Community Urine Samples for Toxins Related to Unconventional Gas Development Activities

Washington County, Pennsylvania

The project aims to develop a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) to analyze urine samples of school age children living in close proximity to unconventional gas development (UGD) infrastructure. In concert with other studies, the results from the PA Environmental Health Studies recently showed several correlations between a person’s proximity to UGD infrastructure and health afflictions. These included increased frequency and intensity of asthma, an increased chance of developing lymphoma by five to seven times, and an increased risk of low birth weight, to name a few. Developing an SOP will provide a standard by which local and regional communities can compare results of current and future urinalysis. Most importantly, this project will give families, their healthcare providers, and public health analysts the information they need to protect human health and create better policies. 


The Project 

PSR PA seeks to replicate a study done by Kristina Marusic with Environmental Health News investigating whether chemicals emitted from fracking sites in Pennsylvania are making their way into the bodies of families living nearby.  With the support of Kristina Marusic, we will collaborate with researchers at the University of Missouri to analyze urine samples for 40 of the chemicals most commonly found in emissions from fracking sites (based on other air and water monitoring studies).  We aim to initiate this study in Washington County in support of Ryan Latkanich’s request to the governor that children living and going to school near hydraulic fracturing operations be tested for carcinogens, such as: PMA (a metabolite of benzene), phenylglyoxylic acid (metabolite of ethylbenzene and styrene), 3-methylhippuric acid (metabolite of m/p-xylene), styrene and more.  This data would also be used to advocate for free testing and better protections from the Department of Environmental Protection.  We will also work with community scientist(s) who are experts on this research to create guidelines and informational surveys so other communities in Pennsylvania and beyond can replicate this study. 

Timelines and Milestones 

The search for a Community Scientist to develop the SOP for urinalysis and survey design will commence in June 2024.  

Phase 1: (4 to 6 months) Upon recruitment of Community Scientists, PSR-PA aims to use Q3 of 2024 to develop SOPs and surveys for the biomarker testing. We will focus on developing an SOP to collect urine samples and informational surveys as well as determining the best methodology for deploying, retrieving, and analyzing the samples and surveys. 

Phase 2: (month 6 onward) starts the dissemination and collection of kits and analysis of samples. We will work in conjunction with grassroots organizations to recruit impacted residents to participate in sampling.  We will pilot in one community. We propose to begin biomarker testing in Q4 of 2024. Depending on funding, we would like to expand to other communities by Q2 or Q3 of 2025. 

About the Community

Physicians for Social Responsibility Pennsylvania (PSR PA) has spent the past ten years protecting Pennsylvanians from the inherent health risks of the UGD industry. The communities supported by this work are composed of marginalized, ethnically diverse, low-income/poor, and rural populations that live in areas disproportionately burdened by environmental hazards of UGD, which increases health disparities. PSR PA engages with impacted residents and community organizations to protect their health from fracking.  Through education and support, these people and communities are provided the tools they need to advocate for better regulations and zoning practices and the ability to change, promote or oppose policies that impact the health of their communities. 

Project Team

Community Lead 

Tonyehn Verkitus

Tonyehn Verkitus, Executive Director, Physicians for Social Responsibility, Pennsylvania. Tonyehn is also the host of Keystone Edition Health on WVIA; Executive Director of Northeast Counties Medical Society; and the chair of professional education for the Luzerne County Opioid Coalition which develops content for health professionals, law enforcement, first responders and legal professionals. 


Community Science Fellow 

Albert Nyack

Dr. Al Nyack (he/him/his) is an Adjunct Professor of Biology at both the University of New Haven and Albertus Magnus College where he teaches Biology, Human Anatomy & Physiology, and Environmental Science courses. A passionate scientist and educator, Al has taught audiences from kindergarten through adult in both traditional and non-traditional classroom and outreach settings. In addition to teaching, he is involved in growing Remote Ecologist—a fledgling NGO dedicated to facilitating research and conservation in the life sciences through a variety of services.  

Collaborating Organization(s)

Environmental Health News