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White to DEP: Release the Data

State Rep. Jesse White, D-Cecil, submitted a Right to Know request for raw data from recent air testing conducted at a nearby medical facility that shut down after mysterious fumes sickened employees.

A local state lawmaker has criticized the state Department of Environmental Protection this week after the agency asked him to file a Right to Know request for information pertaining to air testing at a health facility in the Burgettstown area—information the legislator said was, at one point, promised to be made readily available to him.

, D-, filed the request with the agency last week after he said they declined to release 400 pages of raw data from its June 5 testing at Cornerstone Care's Community Medical and Dental Plaza.

In an email exchange with DEP, White said he was first told the information would be personally delivered to his Harrisburg office only to receive a second email a short time later informing him that more analysis of the information would be needed—and that the agency suggested he make a formal Right to Know request for the data.

“John Poister, a DEP spokesman, said that while the DEP wants to double-check its tests and put the data in context, nothing is expected to show up that hasn't already been reported. Even with the latest sensitive air testing, the DEP was unable to determine why a strong odor resulted in the health center having to be evacuated three times since March,” the Observer-Reporter indicated in its Wednesday edition.

The paper continued: “The only mystery was the compound methyl isobutyl ketone, also known as MIBK, which is a solvent used in a variety of ways. MIBK registered on the spectrometer as a two-minute spike, but officials have no idea about its source. Poister said it was a relatively small concentration and not enough to have resulted in people having to evacuate the building.”

Reached Wednesday afternoon, White said he is confounded by DEP's refusal to release the info, adding that it was the first time he had to file a Right to Know request through a state agency during his tenure as a state representative.

"It doesn't make any sense. The DEP's story on what they have or haven't found at Cornerstorn has shifted quite a bit over the last few weeks," he said Wednesday afternoon. "It went from a 'sniff test' that yielded nothing, to a thorough test that did yield something, but now we're being told there's nothing to worry about. They say they found a compound that could cause the problem, but then they say it isn't the cause of the problem."

Bottom line?

"We don't need more analysis we need to let the facts speak for themselves," the legislator said. "That's why DEP must release the data."

Under the state's Right to Know Act, state agencies have five business days to initially respond to open records requests. In White's case, a response from DEP would be expected by Friday.

If he doesn't hear back from the DEP or the agency doesn't release the documentation?

"I'll do what I have to do to get the information," he said. "I'm simply holding the DEP to the same standard I was held to in high school chemistry class. In order to get credit, you have to show your work."

Editor's Note: The non-profit has since moved its operations to McMurray, White said—adding that it must find another location by June 30.

Roger June 20, 2012 at 01:04 AM
Let's assume the agency releases the 400 pages of raw data. Now what? Is Mr. While capable of doing an analysis of the raw data? Who is capable? If that person is found, why would they want the raw data in printed form? Sorry, ... while sounding like a "feel good" move, it is without any value.
Jesse White June 20, 2012 at 02:30 AM
Roger, due respect, you have no basis for your conclusion. Cornerstone Care has scientists from major universities working with them to pinpoint the problem, and the data would be extremely useful in a variety of ways, as I will discuss in the op/ed which will appear on this site tomorrow morning. Are you a scientist? If not, please don't pretend to be one by drawing conclusions you have no basis whatsoever to make. Either be part of the solution, or kindly stay out of the way of those who are.
Roger June 20, 2012 at 02:54 AM
Yes, Mr. White, I had a career in science. I spent much time pouring through pages and pages of data, and spent much time working on software to process large volumes of data. So, I have a very good understanding of what 400 pages of raw data look like, and what is required to detect trends, prepare statistical correlations, and start to draw conclusions. This is exactly why the demand for the 400 pages of raw data is of little value. Anybody wanting to do analysis of the data certainly would not want paper copy of the data. It might be fine to stand at a podium and show the nearly one ream of paper, but "so what?" This makes great press, but adds nothing to substantive and meaningful conclusions about the data. I understand there is great interest in determining more about the problem. But, getting 400 pages of raw data is hardly a path to a successful procedure for any scientist to use. My comments are neutral regarding standing or moving away. My comments only point up the usefulness of demanding of 400 pages of raw data. My years of professional experience in dealing large volumes of data is one reason that drew me to this story in the first place. Thank you for your help in attempting to solve this problem. But, the path chosen does not seem be a useful one.
Jesse White June 20, 2012 at 04:33 AM
Roger, so in your career in science, you usually found it useful to ignore your data and withhold it from others when there are blatant discrepancies in your analysis? Not to pry, but what exactly was your position with the DEP?

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