Proximity to Natural Gas Wells and Reported Health Status: Results of a Household Survey in Washington County, Pennsylvania

12 Sep

Cuadrilla drilling rig in Lancs

Little is known about the environmental and public health impact of certain natural gas extraction techniques — including hydraulic fracturing, also known as “fracking” — that occur near residential areas.

ehp fracking health coverYale News reports that a Yale-led random survey of 492 people in 180 households with ground-fed water wells has found a greater prevalence of health symptoms reported among residents living close to natural gas wells, including those drilled by hydraulic fracturing. The study appears online in Environmental Health Perspectives, a journal of the National Institutes of Health.

The environmental health survey was general and did not ask specific questions about natural gas extraction, or fracking, in the area. It was an association study and did not look at causation.

The survey took place in southwestern Pennsylvania, where there are 624 active natural gas wells in the survey area. Of those, 95% produce gas via hydraulic fracturing.

This study will be of particular interest to people in areas of England eyed by Cuadrilla – right

cuadrilla 'fracking facility'Reports of skin conditions were more common in households less than 1 kilometer from gas wells compared to those more than 2 kilometers from the gas wells. Reported upper respiratory symptoms also were greater in homes closer to wells.

The study’s senior author Meredith Stowe, associate research scientist at the Yale Occupational and Environmental Medicine Program said: “Our study suggests that natural gas drilling may increase the risk of health symptoms in people living near the wells. We believe our findings support the need for further research into the health and environmental implications of this form of natural gas extraction”.

First author Peter Rabinowitz, M.D., who led the research while at Yale and is now an associate professor in the Departments of Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences and Global Health at the University of Washington’s School of Public Health added: “The effect we found persisted in the analyses, even after adjusting for gender, age, educational level, smoking, and awareness of environmental risk factors”.

This study was supported by grants from Pennysylvania’s Heinz Endowments; The 11th Hour Project, an environmental program of the Schmidt Family Foundation; and the Claneil Foundation (nutrition/food system, health and human services, education, and the environment). Additional support was received from the Jan Stolwijk Fellowship fund (environmental epidemiology, environmental risk assessment).

We appreciate this study and suggest that another valuable contribution would be a survey comparing the health of Americans who have eaten GM food for 20 years with the health of those who have avoided it.

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