PHILADELPHIA, PA – New research shows that hospitalizations for heart conditions, neurological illness, and other conditions are higher among people who live near hyrdralic fracturing sites.
Researchers at University of Pennsylvania and Columbia University, examined the link between drilling well density and healthcare use from 2007 to 2011 in three northeastern Pennsylvania counties by comparing hospoitalization records of the 25 specific medical categories. Bradford and Susquehanna Counties saw a significant increase in drilling activity over this time period, 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.
Their findings revealed that cardiology and neurologic inpatient prevalence rates (the proportion of a population found to have been hospitalized per 100 residents per year) were significantly higher in areas closer to active wells, as determined by the proximity of wells to a person’s home and their density as defined by the number of active wells per square kilometer. In addition, increased neurologic inpatient prevalence rates were associated with higher well density. Hospitalizations for skin conditions, cancer, and urologic problems were also associated with the proximity of dwellings to active wells.
Senior Author Reynold Panettieri, Jr., MD, a professor of Medicine and CEET deputy director said, “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. This study represents one of the most comprehensive to date to link health effects with hydraulic fracturing.”
The authors caution that more study is needed to determine 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; however, this would require personal monitoring studies to measure exposure to specific toxicants, Panettieri notes. “Our findings provide important clues to design epidemiological studies to associate specific toxicant exposures with health end-points.”
While the study does not prove that hydraulic fracturing actually causes these health problems, the authors say, the hospitalization increases observed over the relatively short time span of observation suggests that healthcare costs of hydraulic fracturing must be factored into the economic benefits of unconventional gas and oil drilling.