Backyard Talk

Health Effects of Fracking – New Evidence

The evidence linking adverse health effects and exposure to chemicals generated during the natural gas extraction process of hydraulic fracturing (also known as fracking) continues to mount. The latest evidence, published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives, found that people living near natural gas wells may be at increased risk for adverse health impacts including respiratory and skin conditions. The study examined nearly 500 people in 180 households in Washington County, PA, home to some of the most intense fracking activities in the U.S. The authors found that residents who lived less than a kilometer (about 2/3 of a mile) from a gas well reported more adverse health symptoms than residents who lived more than 2 kilometers from a gas well (about a mile and a third). Residents living less than a kilometer from a gas well were also more likely to report skin conditions during the past year as well as upper respiratory symptoms. The effects did not go away when adjusted for potential confounding variables including age, cigarette smoking, education level and occupation. The study did not find an association between proximity to a natural gas well and increased cardiac, neurological or gastrointestinal symptoms. According to the author, this study is the largest to examine general health conditions among people living near fracking sites.

Researchers from Yale University, the University of Washington and Colorado State University collected their data by going door-to-door and asking people to participate in a general health study. The authors followed the study participants for two years from 2012 to 2014. They did not tell people that the study was looking at the adverse health effects of fracking. The authors hoped this approach would reduce the potential for bias in people reporting the results. There are plans for an even longer term study.

The authors concluded that “airborne irritant exposures related to natural gas extraction activities could be playing a role. Such irritant exposures could result from a number of activities related to natural gas drilling, including flaring of gas wells and exhaust from diesel equipment.” According to the authors, the results underscores the need for ongoing health monitoring of people living near natural gas extraction activities in order to better understand the potential health risks. “We’re at a stage in which we know enough to recommend prudent precaution and exposure reduction,” stated Peter Rabinowitz, one of the co-authors, from the University of Washington.

To read the full paper, click here.