People living near fracking wells in Pennsylvania suffer higher rates of heart conditions and neurological illnesses, according to a new study published in PLOS One.
The study, conducted by researchers from the University of Pennsylvania and Columbia University between 2007 and 2011, analyzed the top 25 medical categories for hospitalizations (as defined by the Pennsylvania Health Cost Containment Council) and cross-referenced them with the number of times residents in three counties located within hydraulic fracturing zones were admitted to hospitals. Residents living near more fracking wells visited hospitals for heart conditions 27 percent more often than residents in non-fracking locations.
“This study captured the collective response of residents to hydraulic fracturing in zip codes within the counties with higher well densities,” said study co-author Dr. Reynold Panettieri, Jr. “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.”
According to the study, cardiology and neurology inpatient prevalence rates “were significantly associated with well density,” a finding that “struck” researchers for how observable the rates were over such a short period of time.
However, though residents living near both more wells and higher densities of wells are being admitted to hospitals more frequently than residents living outside fracking zones, researchers acknowledge that the precise cause is still unknown.
This is not the first study to link higher rates of illness to proximity to fracking zones. In September of last year, a study published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives found that households located less than one kilometer from active natural gas wells suffered from upper respiratory problems at twice the rate of residents who lived two kilometers away or more.
As with the present study, the precise reason for the higher rates of illness is unknown, though “airborne irritant exposures” from the sites “could be playing a role.”