A greater prevalence of health symptoms was reported among residents living close to natural gas wells, including those drilled by hydraulic fracturing, according to a study led by researchers at the University of Washington School of Public Health and Yale School of Public Health.
[Photos: Drs. Peter Rabinowitz and Meredith Stowe]
Little is known about the environmental and public health impact of certain natural gas extraction techniques, including hydraulic fracturing, also known as “fracking.” The researchers conducted a random survey of 492 people in 180 households with ground-fed water wells in southwestern Pennsylvania, where natural gas extraction activity is significant. They compared proximity of gas wells to the frequency of self-reported skin, respiratory, gastrointestinal, cardiovascular, and neurological symptoms over the past year.
The study, which appears in Environmental Health Perspectives, found that the prevalence of some reported health symptoms was higher among residents living closer to natural gas wells. Reports of skin conditions were more common in households less than one kilometer from gas wells compared to those more than two kilometers away. Reported upper respiratory symptoms also were greater in homes closer to wells. The study did not find a significant increase in grouped neurological, cardiovascular, or gastrointestinal symptoms among those living in homes closer to natural gas wells.
“The effect we found persisted in the analyses, even after adjusting for gender, age, educational level, smoking, and awareness of environmental risk factors,” said first author Dr. Peter Rabinowitz, 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 School of Public Health.
“Our study suggests that natural gas drilling may increase the risk of health symptoms in people living near the wells,” said senior author Dr. Meredith Stowe, associate research scientist at the Yale Occupational and Environmental Medicine Program and lecturer at the Yale School of Public Health. “We believe our findings support the need for further research into the health and environmental implications of this form of natural gas extraction.”