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A 2015 protest against fracking in Pennsylvania. (Photo: Public Herald/flickr/cc)

Fatigue, Migraines Linked to Fracking as Case Builds for National Ban

'It is abundantly clear that fracking is harming people, and the only solution is to stop fracking'

Deirdre Fulton

New research published Thursday links severe fatigue and migraine headaches to hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, leading to renewed calls for a ban on the controversial oil and gas extraction method

Researchers from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health reported their findings online in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives, saying their research adds to "a growing body of evidence linking the fracking industry to health problems."

"The people in this state do not deserve to be put in harm's way by leaders who are choosing to ignore the dangers of fracking and related infrastructure."
—Diane Sipe, Pennsylvanians Against Fracking 

The study was based on a survey of 7,785 adult primary care patients of the Geisinger Health System, a healthcare provider that covers 40 counties in north and central Pennsylvania. With the Marcellus Shale running below most of Pennsylvania, the northeastern and southwestern parts of the state have become ground zero for drilling. 

According to a press statement from Johns Hopkins, the researchers found that 1,765 respondents (23 percent) suffered from migraines; 1,930 people (25 percent) experienced severe fatigue; and 1,850 (24 percent) had current symptoms of chronic rhinosinusitis, defined as three or more months of nasal and sinus symptoms.

The researchers then used publicly available well data to estimate participants' exposure to the fracking industry—accounting for both the size and number of wells, as well as the distance between wells and people's homes. "While no single health condition was associated with proximity to active wells, those who met criteria for two or more of the health conditions were nearly twice as likely to live closer to more or larger wells," they reported.

"These three health conditions can have debilitating impacts on people's lives," said study author Aaron W. Tustin, a resident physician in the Department of Environmental Health Sciences at the Bloomberg School. "In addition, they cost the health care system a lot of money. Our data suggest these symptoms are associated with proximity to the fracking industry."

And while the study proves correlation, not causation, senior author Brian S. Schwartz, a physician and environmental epidemiologist at the Bloomberg School of Public Health, told the New York Times, "there have now been seven or eight studies with different designs and in different populations, and while none is perfect, there is now a growing body of evidence that this industry is associated with impacts on health that are biologically plausible. Do we know the exact mechanism? No. That requires further study."

In fact, noted Food & Water Watch executive director Wenonah Hauter on Thursday, "this is the third study released by Hopkins in the past year that connects proximity to fracking sites with adverse health outcomes. Last fall, researchers found an association between fracking and premature births and high-risk pregnancies, and last month, found ties between fracking and asthma."

"While the industry will no doubt continue to refute the expanding science about the dangers of fracking, we can't afford to ignore it," said Hauter, who is a vocal proponent of a national fracking ban. "The public health and climate impacts of extreme fossil fuel extraction requires bold leadership to keep fossil fuels in the ground and transition swiftly to renewable energy."

"The public health and climate impacts of extreme fossil fuel extraction requires bold leadership to keep fossil fuels in the ground and transition swiftly to renewable energy."
—Wenonah Hauter, Food & Water Watch

Indeed, said Diane Sipe, Pennsylvania resident and steering committee member of Pennsylvanians Against Fracking: "Enough is enough." 

"It is abundantly clear that fracking is harming people, and the only solution is to stop fracking," Sipe declared. "The people in this state do not deserve to be put in harm's way by leaders who are choosing to ignore the dangers of fracking and related infrastructure. It is time for Governor [Tom] Wolf to follow the example set in New York, and put the well-being of his constituents above the profits of the oil and gas industry and ban fracking in Pennsylvania once and for all."

A separate study, also published Thursday, found that prenatal exposure to fracking chemicals may threaten fertility in female mice.

"The evidence indicates that developmental exposure to fracking and drilling chemicals may pose a threat to fertility in animals and potentially people," said the study's senior author, Susan C. Nagel of the University of Missouri. "Negative outcomes were observed even in mice exposed to the lowest dose of chemicals, which was lower than the concentrations found in groundwater at some locations with past oil and gas wastewater spills."

She added: "These findings build on our previous research, which found exposure to the same chemicals was tied to reduced sperm counts in male mice. Our studies suggest adverse developmental and reproductive health outcomes might be expected in humans and animals exposed to chemicals in regions with oil and gas drilling activity."


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