Fracking – the bad news

Though no one can argue the that there has been benefits from Hydraulic fracturing – otherwise known as simply “fracking”, the popular form of oil and gas drilling has expanded vastly in the United States over the past ten years, leading to increasing concerns about water and air pollution.  According to a new study, people who live near fracking sites may be at higher chances for hospitalization for heart problems, neurological disorders and other conditions. The study revealed an increased hospitalization rate in two northeastern counties in Pennsylvania with a number of fracked wells between 2007 and 2011. Prior to fracking (began in 2007), hospitalization rates were trending down in all the counties. The experts assessed the top 25 specific medical categories for more than 198,000 hospitalizations among residents of the three counties between 2007 and 2011.

Rates of hospitalizations for heart and neurological problems were shown to be much higher among people who lived closer to active fracked wells. In particular, people living in areas of Bradford and Susquehanna counties, with a fracked well density of more than 0.79 wells per square kilometer, were 27 percent more likely to be hospitalized for heart problems than people in counties with far fewer fracked wells. Hospitalization rates for cancer, urologic problems and skin conditions were also higher among people who lived closer to active fracked wells. The study was published online July 15 in the journal PLOS One. “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,” senior study author Dr. Reynold Panettieri Jr., deputy director of the Center of Excellence in Environmental Toxicology at the University of Pennsylvania, said in a university news release. “This study represents one of the most comprehensive to date to link health effects with hydraulic fracturing,” he added.

Though the study does not attest that fracking actually causes health problems, but suggests that health care costs need to be factored into estimates of the economic impacts of fracking, the researchers said. The experts also said further research is needed to figure out how specific pollutants or combinations of pollutants, associated with fracking may contribute to hospitalization rates.