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Fracking may be causing health problems for residents who live near shale gas wells, according to a new study. (Photo: Faces of Fracking/flickr/cc)

Can Simply Living Near a Fracking Site Send You to the Hospital?

Residents living near shale gas wells are more likely to be admitted to hospitals for heart, nervous system, and other medical issues

Nadia Prupis

People living near "unconventional gas and oil drilling" operations were more likely to be hospitalized for heart, nervous system, and other medical conditions than those who were not in proximity to those sites, a new study published Wednesday has found.

It's the latest—and most comprehensive—indication that hydraulic fracturing, the controversial shale gas drilling method also known as fracking, and all the "noise, the trucks, the drilling, the flaring, the anxiety" it brings may have impact on residents in nearby areas, the study, titled Unconventional Gas and Oil Drilling Is Associated with Increased Hospital Utilization Rates, found—and the consequences hit more than their health.

The impacts of fracking "all can impart an aberrant stress response on the body that could make people more susceptible," to health problems, and with "an inpatient stay costing on average [$30,000], this poses a significant economic health burden to the [commonwealth]," states the study, conducted by researchers with the University of Pennsylvania and Columbia University.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports:

[Researchers] found a significant association between hospitalization rates for cardiological or neurologic conditions and areas with either a higher number or higher density of wells, while hospitalizations for other medical categories, including skin and urological conditions and cancer, had a weaker association with drilling activity. Inpatient prevalence rates for most of the 25 medical categories the researchers studied remained relatively stable over the five-year period, they found.

"This study captured the collective response of residents to hydraulic fracturing in zip codes within the counties with higher well densities," said senior author Reynold Panettieri, Jr., MD, a deputy director at Penn's Center of Excellence in Environmental Toxicology (CEET).

"This study represents one of the most comprehensive to date to link health effects with hydraulic fracturing," he added.

The authors warned that "more study is needed to determine how specific, individual toxicants or combinations may increase hospitalization rates," according to Penn Medicine's write-up of the study. However, Penn Medicine says:

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.


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