That’s according to a new study published Wednesday in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives, the largest survey to date on the health effects of people living near and around fracking sites.
The study’s authors, a Yale-based research team, interviewed households that relied on ground-fed water wells in southwestern Pennsylvania. The region has been the site of a drilling boom in the last decade due to the rich oil and gas deposits in the Marcellus Shale.
Researchers discovered that of the households located less than one kilometer from an active natural gas well, 39 percent suffered from upper respiratory problems. That’s more than twice the amount of residents who lived two kilometers away or more (18 percent). The authors of the study write that “airborne irritant exposures” from the sites, such as gas glares and exhaust from diesel equipment, “could be playing a role” in the division.
Of the households located within one kilometer of a gas well, 13 percent reported suffering from skin rashes and irritations. Only three percent of households located two kilometers away or further reported the same. Skin irritations, the authors note, could also be caused by air pollutants or by water contamination resulting from “breaks in the gas well casing or other underground communications between ground water supplies and fracking activities.”
It would not be the first time Pennsylvanians were exposed to fracked water. Last month, after years of lawsuits, the state finally admitted that 243 private drinking wells had been contaminated by gas drilling operations.
Fracking in Pennsylvania began six years ago, which is not enough time to test residents for more long-term effects of exposure, such as cancer. However, the fact that drilling companies generally refuse to reveal the mixture of chemicals they use to drill into the earth has scientists, environmentalists and health officials worried.
In July, the Concerned Health Professionals of New York sent a compendium of health risks associated with fracking to NY Health Commissioner Howard A. Zucker. In the letter accompanying their report, the CHPNY strongly urged for a moratorium on the drilling practice. The authors reported that they found “no evidence that fracking can be practiced in a manner that does not threaten human health.”