Study tracks spike in fracking zone health problems

Study shows fracking health risks. @bberwyn photo.

Hydraulic fracturing linked to increases in hospitalization rates in  Marcellus Shale

Staff Report

FRISCO — People living near active fracking sites in northeastern Pennsylvania are much more likely to be hospitalized for heart conditions and neurological illness, according to a new study.

Hospitalizations for skin conditions, cancer, and urologic problems were also associated with the proximity of dwellings to active wells, as well as to the density of wells.

“This study captured the collective response of residents to hydraulic fracturing in zip codes within the counties with higher well densities,” said senior author Dr. Reynold Panettieri, Jr., a professor of medicine and deputy director of the  Center of Excellence in Environmental Toxicology at Penn’s Perelman School of Medicine.

“At this point, we suspect that residents are exposed to many toxicants, noise, and social stressors due to hydraulic fracturing near their homes and this may add to the increased number of hospitalizations,” he said.

The study was done by researchers with the University of Pennsylvania and Columbia University, who examined the link between drilling well density and healthcare use by zip code from 2007 to 2011 in three northeastern Pennsylvania counties. The research team combed databases including more than 198,000 hospitalizations and matched them by zip code with residents’ proximity to active wells.

Two of the counties — Bradford and Susquehanna — saw a significant increase in drilling activity during the study time period, between 2007 and 2011, while the control county, Wayne, experienced no drilling activity due to a ban on drilling in that county because of its proximity to the Delaware River watershed.

In areas with well densities greater than 0.79 wells per square kilometer, residents were predicted to have a 27 percent increase in cardiology inpatient prevalence rates, compared to Wayne County residents where there is no drilling. The researchers aim to look at specific types of health problems within these broad categories in the future.

The authors said more study is needed to learn how specific, individual toxicants or combinations may increase hospitalization rates. For example, the increase in cardiology hospitalizations could be related to an increased exposure to air pollution such as diesel exhaust and fine particulate matter.

“Our findings provide important clues to design epidemiological studies to associate specific toxicant exposures with health end-points,” Panettieri said.

The study doesn’t prove that hydraulic fracturing actually causes these health problems, the authors said. But the spike in hospitalization rates suggests  that healthcare costs of hydraulic fracturing must be factored into the economic benefits of unconventional gas and oil drilling.

This study was supported by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. The findings were published this week in PLOS ONE.


4 thoughts on “Study tracks spike in fracking zone health problems

  1. Given that the study suggests health effects possibly due to particulates and diesel exhaust, it is deceptive to say (in the headline) that this is about hydraulic fracturing rather than increased truck traffic, which can be tied perhaps to natural gas development, but not to any aspect of the fracturing, and could also be tied to other developments in the region. It is likewise peculiar to show a Colorado rig photo in an article about Pennsylvania, and suggests an attempt to expand the applicability of this study beyond what is appropriate.

    1. Agree. There are a million other things that could have caused health problems. The authors stated such. However, placing the word “fracking” in the headline will get more attention.

  2. Sorry guys, this study clearly links fracking with human health impacts, you may not like it, but it’s pretty obvious from the findings that people who live around intense fracking zones are more likely to have to go to the hospital. Yeah, it may be partly the increased truck traffic, but most likely it’s a combination of things related to the fracking boom. Instead of denying it, embrace it, and try to figure out a way to be part of the solution. There must be a way to avoid and minimize the impacts to human health.

    1. Unless you subscribe to the knee-jerk school of thought that considers “oil & gas operations” and “fracking” synonyms, you would have to admit that there is no indication, at least in your account of the study, that the authors have conducted a control study to determine whether the effects they observe relate to hydraulic fracturing or to oil and gas operations in general. If diesel fumes are a critical component, then a wide variety of situations could be equally well demonstrated to have health effects, and the authors have not tied the health effects uniquely to hydraulic fracturing. Controls are essential to such a scientific study.

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