People living in areas near hydraulic fracturing more likely to be hospitalised for heart conditions: Study

18 Jul 2015


People who live in areas near hydraulic fracturing are more likely candidates for hospitalisation due to heart conditions, neurological illnesses and cancer, according to researchers from the University of Pennsylvania and Columbia University.

In fracking a mixture of water, chemicals and sand is used to break apart underground rock formations. The technique has led to a surge in US energy production in recent years, as also a debate over whether the process caused air and water pollution.

The study, which was published this week in PLOS ONE, considered hospitalisation rates in parts of Pennsylvania from 2007 to 2011 and found them significantly higher in areas with fracking as against those without.

"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," Reynold Panettieri, one of the study's authors, said in a press release.

According to the team 18 ZIP codes in its study had a well density more than 0.79 wells per square kilometer, while residents living in these ZIP codes were predicted to have a 27-per cent increase in hospitalisations for heart conditions as against those areas without any drilling.

The study further showed higher rates of hospitalisation for neurological illness, skin conditions and cancer.

The researchers looked at hospitalisation rates between 2007 and 2011 in Bradford and Susquehanna counties in northeastern Pennsylvania that had an increase in fracking wells.

A third county, Wayne, where there was a de facto drilling moratorium was used as a control, actually saw the number of hospitalisations decline.

According to the authors of the study, their report might be one of the most comprehensive studies to date on the health effects of living near fracking wells.

But the researchers said there that were limitations to their analysis.

Since the study did not measure exposure to pollution, the researchers did not know the precise cause of the medical conditions.

Also the researchers did not count people who were hospitalised but did not live in one of the counties, which could indicate an undercount of medical conditions associated with workers on drilling rigs who traveled from other states to work in Pennsylvania's oil fields.

According to the estimates of the authors, an increase of 25 wells in a zip code could lead to a 2 per cent increase in trips to the hospital.

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