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  • Writer's pictureEnvironmental Health Project

Profile: Dr. Ned Ketyer

Edward (Ned) Ketyer, MD, FAAP, has served as the Environmental Health Project’s Medical Advisor since 2016. Ned enjoyed 26 years in private practice before retiring from patient care in 2017, although he continues to write a daily blog for AHN Pediatrics called The PediaBlog. He remains a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics Council on Environmental Health and Climate Change and is President of Physicians for Social Responsibility Pennsylvania.

Dr. Ketyer has short salt and pepper hair and wears glasses and a dark suit jacket over a light blue button down shirt as he speaks into a microphone at a podium.
Dr. Ketyer speaking at a 2019 meeting on childhood cancers.

Growing Up Near America’s First Cancer Alley

Ned grew up in New Jersey on the edge of America’s first “cancer alley.” His family home was in South Orange. After a five minute walk, Ned could reach the top of a hill, called First Mountain by the Lenni Lenape, to look over the floodplain of northern New Jersey, northeastern New Jersey, and into lower Manhattan. The view up and down the floodplain included refineries, chemical factories, and pharmaceutical industries.

“The first time I ever heard the term cancer alley was from my father, who was a radiologist in Elizabeth, New Jersey,” Ned said. “Elizabeth was really in the heart of cancer alley. I imagine I was in college in the late '70s when I heard him use that term.”

The connection between New Jersey’s cancer alley and the view marred with industrial pollution was obvious. To escape the pollution in Northern New Jersey, Ned went to the University of Vermont in Burlington. Burlington is regularly listed as one of the cleanest cities in America for ozone and particle pollution. Ned found the people to be environmentally conscious and focused on sustainability. “So really, from my point of view, Burlington is a very progressive place to go,” Ned said. “It really opened up my eyes to the fact that you could be environmentally conscious and still live a decent comfortable life.”

After medical school in Manila, the capital city of the Philippines, and Chicago, Illinois, Ned arrived in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania for his residency. “Most of the steel industry was gone,” Ned said. “It was really the renaissance of ‘eds and meds’ when I arrived in 1987. Pittsburgh and Allegheny County were really proud of being able to move beyond the descriptor of ‘hell with the lid off’ from the steel mill days. I was a part of that transition to cleaner jobs, and I really liked it.”

Southwestern Pennsylvania brought Ned closer to home than he had been in a long time. “I figured a six hour drive from home was pretty good,” Ned said. “And then I met my wife here and stayed.”

Landscaping with a Side of Shale Gas Awareness

Ned and his wife were taking a walk in their Upper Saint Clair neighborhood one day. The couple was in need of a landscaper for their new house when they encountered a truck with “Donnan Landscaping” printed on the side. Ned stopped the man who was mowing a neighbor’s lawn and hired him.

“Bob [Donnan] was a wonderful landscaper, very knowledgeable, and very fair,” Ned said. “He would come a few times a year to plant something or do the spring cleaning. After I moved to Washington County, Bob and I would talk about fracking. He taught me all about it, and I was very interested in it because environmental health has always been a part of my thinking and my practice.”

A Chance Encounter

Some time later, as Ned continued to work as a pediatrician and the author of the PediaBlog, he walked into an exam room and met Raina Ripple and her two kids for the first time. “I always ask parents how they spend their time,” Ned said. “So I asked Raina, and she said she was the executive director of EHP.”

Ned had an understanding of the consequences shale gas extraction was having in Southwestern Pennsylvania from his conversations with Bob Donnan and from his experience as a pediatrician working in Washington County. He was impressed with the work EHP was doing. A few months later, he signed on as the organization’s medical advisor.

Jill has blondish brownish shoulder length hair and bangs and is wearing glasses and a dark turtleneck under a plaid blazer. Ned is wearing a collared shirt under an olive drab sweater. Both are smiling as they sit in front of a fireplace mantle.
Dr. Ketyer and Jill Kriesky, former EHP associate director, at EHP’s fifth anniversary dinner.

Meeting the Need for Health Education

Through his work with EHP and as the president of Physicians for Social Responsibility Pennsylvania, Ned gives testimony and presentations on the impact of shale gas development on human health and climate change implications. “I think health is something you need to keep reminding people to think about,” Ned said. “People forget things they learned in school. They forget things that they learned from their mothers and fathers. People forget, and they have to be reminded. Medical professionals, doctors, and nurses are respected. If you approach people in a respectful way, you can teach them.”

The main points Ned tries to convey are what he classifies as the inherent truths of shale gas development. “It is inherently dirty and dangerous,” he said. “It scars the landscape and pollutes the air, water, and soil that we all share. It makes aquatic creatures, wildlife, farm animals, and family pets sick. It makes people sick.”

Ned stands in the background, arms crossed, as Debbie pours water from a jug with nine school aged children gathered around a table with glasses of water and spoons in front of them. Library shelves line the perimeter of the room.
Dr. Ketyer and Debbie Larson, EHP’s former community outreach coordinator, teach kids participating in the 2017 Bentleyville Library Summer Program about shale gas impacts to water.

Ned points to increased asthma rates, low birth weight, heart problems, hospitalizations, and childhood cancers near shale gas infrastructure as evidence of a need for policymakers to consider public health impacts over perceived economic benefits. “We like to believe that the EPA is on top of everything, and the DEP is doing what they should do to protect the environment,” Ned said. “It just doesn’t work that way. We need decision makers to think about shale gas pollution as a public health problem and do what’s best for the Commonwealth.”

Avoiding Despair on the Cusp of Another Shale Gas Boom

Ned looks to his three children to energize and motivate him for the continuing fight for a healthier environment. Two of his three children have left the area, due in part to the density of shale gas infrastructure. “I want my kids to have a liveable world,” Ned said. “We’ve burned through more than half of all fossil fuels ever mined and drilled since 1990, the year I began my pediatric practice. We’ve produced more than three quarters of the plastic that exists on the planet since then. So I think of my kids in 30 years and I can’t imagine what the world will be like if we don’t take climate change seriously.”

The key to staying grounded and hopeful about the future for Ned is continuing to seek out beautiful things while working to fix what is broken. He spends time outside and sits out in the evening watching lightning bugs and feeling the breeze. He listens to the silence and he listens to music.

“What keeps me going in a positive light is that there’s still a lot of amazing things in life every day,” Ned said. “If you look for it, there’s something extraordinary.”


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