Another Doctor Gag Rule

Before I was a nurse, I was an Emergency Medical Technician, and later, the OSHA nurse in one of my jobs.

One day I was working in the community, and asked to deal with a situation. A man who lived in a building thought he was exposed to some floor-stripping chemicals used in a renovation. The man was a veteran who suffered from terrible migraines and he had to avoid noise and fumes. He wanted to know what chemicals he was smelling in the hallway, so he could talk to his doctor. Everyone was hesitating, possibly worried about liability.

It seemed simple enough to me. I said there had to be a Material Safety Data Sheet as OSHA required. So–give it to him.

I remember the look of gratitude on the man’s face, and I was sorry he even had to ask more than once for what was a simple, reasonable and just request. I had assumed that it was a settled legal precedent that public safety is more important than institutional or corporate immunity from consequences.

Of course, I was wrong about that. Corporations can get away with wiping out entire towns. But Pennsylvania takes it to a whole new level. Never mind no MSDS or OSHA, they have passed a doctor gag rule that can financially ruin any doctor who discloses the names of the chemicals that are poisoning their patients. Fracking– mining for natural gas, is a dirty process.

The law grants physicians access to information about trade-secret chemicals used in natural gas drilling. Doctors say they need to know what’s in those formulas in order to treat patients who may have been exposed to the chemicals.

But the new law also says that doctors can’t tell anyone else — not even other doctors — what’s in those formulas. It’s being called the “doctor gag rule.”

Talk about an industry-friendly law. A mining company has the right to release chemicals into the air and water, but a doctor can lose everything if she tells her patients what they were exposed to…

Plastic surgeon Amy Pare practices in suburban Pittsburgh where she does reconstructive surgeries and deals with a lot of skin issues. She tells me about one case, a family who brought in a boy with strange skin lesions.

“Their son is quite ill — has had lethargy, nosebleeds,” Pare says. “He’s had liver damage. I don’t know if it’s due to exposure.”

The family lived near natural gas drilling activity, and there was some concern that the boy may have been exposed to some of the chemicals being used. Producing natural gas is a pretty industrial process and gives off a lot of fumes. It uses a lot of chemicals to open wells to get the gas flowing.

Pare’s first step was to figure out what chemicals the drillers were using. But that information isn’t easy to get. In this case, Pare says, the patient’s family had a good lawyer who helped them find out what kind of chemicals the gas company was using.

“If I don’t know what [patients] have been exposed to, how do I find the antidote? We’re definitely not clairvoyant,” she says.

Someone has to stand up for public health, even when corporations claim that ‘proprietary trade secrets’ are at risk. We’re not talking about the Colonel’s secret recipe here, we’re talking about chemicals that go into the air and water.

A gag-rule so severe is a disincentive for doctors to care for their patients.

It’s better if the law creates a disincentive for mining corporations that use dangerous chemicals.

Or maybe the chemicals are harmless, like they claim?

I remember that the man who asked for the MSDS sheet was grateful to get it and we heard no more about it. Take the gag off the doctors and shine some light on industry. Sunlight is healthy.

10 thoughts on “Another Doctor Gag Rule

  1. This is very sad and scary….so as the doctor, you’re just supposed to do nothing about this chemical that is injuring people? This makes no sense.

    1. the law lets doctors know what chemicals their patients might have been exposed to, but makes them liable if the information gets out. I don’t know why any business would be allowed to spew chemicals and keep it secret from the public.

      1. Wow. Remind me never to move to Pennsylvania. Is there a public advocacy group out there that will challenge this awfulness?

    2. It makes no sense only if you believe that people take priority over corporate profits. Since protecting corporate profits is THE priority of these corrupt governments, it makes absolute sense.

      And I really, really wish I was being sarcastic.

  2. Who said living itself was a clean process?I don’t get it with you two ladies-nuclear,coal,oil,and natural gas are all no good-we should depend on wind ,solar,and maybe some hydroelectric and geothermal.It is unrealistic-you’d put untold numbers of people in those “bad”industries out of work with no equivalent “green”jobs to replace lost ones.
    You seem to exist in a bubble of denial.Making energy available for use usually involves some “dirt making” also-kinda like nutrition(which is why we have toilets)-there’s no free lunch-get it?
    We can try to improve methods and even combine resources(like in hybrid cars)but there will alwys be a price to pay.
    I haven’t even mentioned utility costs,which would skyrocket if people like you made the regulations.
    “Public advocacy group”usually means some Soros backed bunch of whiners these days.
    If a group isn’t left wing,then I guess you two wouldn’t consider that “public advocacy”.

    1. Nice straw man, there, Joe. In all your posturing about how you’re such a tough, hard-nosed, realist unlike all these soft headed liberals, you failed to actually address any of the issues in the post. Nobody said anything about what type of energy is good or bad – it’s about transparency and accountability. It’s about the notion that the public owns the air and water in this country and if some industry is dumping poisons into them we have the right to at least know what they are. I guess you’re hoping that if you keep towing the line of your bosses, eventually one of them will give you a nice pat on the head and tell you that you’re good little honorary capitalist. That won’t stop you or your children from being poisoned, though.

      1. Hey,”AtoZ”or whoever-I already was poisoned-by Agent Orange in Vietnam and am pretty damn sick-so spare me your crap-I have,by force of circumstance,become a hard nosed realist.You wanna tell me who my “bosses”are?I’d like to know smartass,because as far as I know,being a retired public employee with no mortgage,I have none.
        I’ve read this blog long enough to know what the people running it think about a number of issues,”clean”energy being onee of them.
        BTW I don’t oppose the release of information concerning chemicals used-why would I?

      2. A to Z got it right. There’s no real reason to claim secrecy about chemicals that have a high chance of getting into the local air and water– except that the public will hold the polluters accountable. If fracking miners have a solid case that they are benefiting society they should make that case. There’s no easy answers to our energy problems, but that’s no reason to hide information from the public. The ‘proprietary’ argument is weak. You don’t pick a mining corporation off a shelf. They have to bid, and lobby and use those chemicals in processes. Revealing what chemicals they use will not put them behind the competition– especially when disclosure is required of all the players in the industry.

      3. Joe Said:
        “BTW I don’t oppose the release of information concerning chemicals used-why would I?”

        Wait, so you’re saying that you agree with the original blog post, but you chose to respond with a rant against a position that no one actually articulated?

  3. Rant?What rant?I guess that means anything you don’t like.
    The bloggers here have had an ongoing discussion of energy problems and you jump in here making value judgements about me personally when you haven’t been part of the conversation previously.
    I have a little problem with the concept of “public advocacy groups” in Kiersten and Nancy’s world-if a group supports enforcement of existing immigration laws,or opposes tax increases,then they aren’t in the definition-it seems only left leaning organizations need to be considered.
    Only a brain damaged idiot would support the idea of polluting the environment through negligence or design.
    What I am saying is that some pollution is inevitable in any energy production scenario.
    Newsflash:Producing rust resistant equipment for wind farms is a highly polluting process.

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