Try Not to Live Too Close to a Fracked Well

by Emil Morhardt

If you happen to live within 1 km of a hydraulically fractured well in Pennsylvania, and you get your water supply from a well, you stand about twice as large a chance of having skin and upper respiratory problems than if you live 2 km or farther away; you have over 3 health symptoms, on average—people further away have only 1.6. Looked at another way,13% of people living near fracking operations have upper respiratory problems, versus 3% living farther away; and 39% of the same group of people have upper respiratory problems versus 18% living further away. That is the disturbing result of an epidemiological study of almost 500 people in an area of natural gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale, just published in a journal of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (Rabinowitz et al. 2014).

A major limitation of the study is that these conditions were all self-reported, and it is within the realm of possibility that people living near gas wells were more sensitive to the possibility of health problems, and more likely to report less severe ones. On the other hand, people living close to the wells might be receiving revenue from them and be more hesitant to report health problems…nobody knows yet. Clearly there needs to be a follow-up study in which health professionals characterize the symptoms.

What caused the reported symptoms? It could be contaminants leaking into the water or air from the fracking operations; or it could be related to the increased stress and anxiety of living near them. This study raises more questions than it answers, but that’s the way it is with science, and it certainly adds to the body of knowledge suggesting that fracking is not without serious issues and in need of better regulation.

Rabinowitz, P.M., Slizovskiy, I.B., Lamers, V., Trufan, S.J., Holford, T.R., Dziura, J.D., Peduzzi, P.N., Kane, M.J., Reif, J.S., Weiss, T.R., 2014. Proximity to Natural Gas Wells and Reported Health Status: Results of a Household Survey in Washington County, Pennsylvania. Environ Health Perspect. Full paper at: http://1.usa.gov/1sjGREm

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