Pollution From Fracking Wells May Aggravate Asthma: Study

New research suggests that individuals who live closer to hydraulic fracturing operations, more commonly known as fracking, may be more likely to develop asthma. 

In a study published this week in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), researchers found that children and adults who live near fracking sites were as much as four times more likely to require asthma treatments.

Although the study has not definitively established a causal connection between fracking and asthma, a proximity connection was seen, as the likelihood for asthma treatments decreased the further individuals lived from fracking sites.

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Sara Rasmussen, of the Johns Hopkins University’s Bloomberg School of Public Health, and a team of researchers initiated the study with the intent to find whether the effects of fracking caused an increase in asthma diagnosis or whether asthma-related symptoms were exacerbated in those surrounding fracking sites.

Supportive evidence has been presented in other recent studies that the effects of fracking may cause asthma symptoms to worsen in patients due to the increased dust and exhaust exposures.

With more than 25 million American children and adults suffering from asthma, which is a disease that causes a person’s airways to become inflamed, narrow, and swell making it difficult to breath. Concerns over whether fracking effects cause exacerbated asthma symptoms was the basis of the researchers study.

Fracking is a term used to define the drilling and hydraulic fracturing of shale rock to release oil and gas.Fracking is the process of injecting water, sand and chemicals into wells at high pressures to crack the surrounding rock, thus releasing the natural gas underground and allowing it to flow to the head of the well.

Fracking has been alleged to cause negative environmental side effects to the surrounding communities due to the increased dust and exhaust from drilling rigs, compressors and the transportation of the water, sand and chemicals. The extent of the potential harm to humans living close to these fracking sites has yet to be determined.

Researchers analyzed the areas surrounding more than 6,200 fracking wells drilled in Pennsylvania between 2005 and 2012 to determine if asthma patients living closer to the fracking sites were more prone to suffer increased side effects. Patient data was pulled throughout the time frame from Geisinger Clinic, which provides primary care services to over 400,000 patients in Pennsylvania.

The study broke down the proximity in which patients suffering asthma side effects lived from the fracking sites and defined the patient’s exacerbated symptoms as mild, moderate, and severe. The results indicate 20,749 patients with mild, 1,870 patients with moderate, and 4,782 patients with severe asthma exacerbations.

Patients who lived closer to the unconventional natural gas development (UNGD) fracking sites were as much as four times more likely to suffer increased asthma side effects, according to the findings.

Throughout the study, researchers identified more than 20,000 new oral steroid prescriptions ordered, nearly 5,000 asthma-related hospitalizations, and upward of 2,000 emergency room asthma visits. These scenarios were gauged to be 50% to four times more likely to occur for patients living in closer proximities to bigger active fracking sites than those living further away.

Fracking Health Concerns

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) confirmed in June 2015 that some cases of hydraulic fracturing had resulted in polluted water supplies, but the agency lacked the sufficient evidence to truly understand how widespread the problem could be and the harm it could cause to residents drinking and bath water.

Fracking has become an increasing concern to environmentalists, lawmakers, and local communities as dozens of plaintiff’s have, and continue to file lawsuits against the drilling companies for contaminating their local wells and exposing them to toxic chemicals that damaged their health and lowered their property values.

A number of lawsuits have been ruled on in fracking cases in the United States, with one of the most recent verdicts issued in March by a federal jury in Pennsylvania that awarded two families in excess of $4.2 million in damages over fracking tainting their drinking water. The two families were the last of more than 40 families in the Dimock, Pennsylvania area to resolve lawsuits over fracking problems.

Similar lawsuits have been filed in Texas which is another popular state for fracking. In 2014 a family was awarded $2.9 million in damages due to the drilling company creating a public nuisance from fracking that caused nearly two dozen wells to become contaminated with toxic chemicals.


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