Researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health surveyed 7,785 adult patients of the Geisinger Health System in Pennsylvania and found that 23 percent of respondents reported suffering migraines, while 25 percent reported experiencing severe fatigue and 24 percent reported having chronic rhinosinusitis.
Researchers also found that respondents who met the criteria for two or more health concerns were twice as likely to live in areas that were nearer to a higher number or larger wells.
Researchers said exposure to allergens, secondhand smoke and toxic chemicals can trigger nasal and sinus conditions, while noise pollution, bad smells and stress may contribute to migraine attacks. Sleep deprivation and psychosocial stressors play key roles in the development of severe fatigue, researchers added.
"These three health conditions can have debilitating impacts on people's lives. In addition, they cost the health care system a lot of money. Our data suggest these symptoms are associated with proximity to the fracking industry," said study author Aaron W. Tustin, who is a resident doctor in the Department of Environmental Health Sciences at the Bloomberg School at Johns Hopkins.
Senior author Brian Schwartz added that currently researchers "...don't know specifically why people in close proximity to these larger wells are more likely to be sick. We need to find a way to better understand the correlation and, hopefully, do something to protect the health of these people.”
Pennsylvania's hydraulic fracturing industry is teeming, with more than 9,000 fracking wells already in place. Fracking has also become a prominent industry in other states including Wyoming and West Virginia. New York, on the other hand, has banned the activity, while Maryland placed a moratorium to delay fracking.
Another study found that unconventional oil and gas operations and fracking negatively impacts air quality, and thus pose a health risk to infants and young children. The analysis revealed that at least five chemicals used in unconventional fracking activities – including silica dust, formaldehyde, particulate matter, tropospheric ozone and benzene – were associated with lung inflammation, reduced lung and pulmonary function and reduced resistance to infection. These chemicals were also linked to chest discomfort, breathing difficulties and other serious conditions among infants and young children. These chemicals were also recognized as air pollutants by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, the CDC and Environmental Protection Agency, as well as Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the National Institutes of Health.
Researchers said the highly industrial activities that occur during the fracking process sends air pollutants and chemicals in the air, which then results in adverse health effects in younger patients. Infants and children are particularly vulnerable to these pollutants and chemicals as their respiratory systems are still developing. Study authors recommend measures to cut methane emission and calls for more stringent policies on disclosure and transparency of chemical use during fracking. These findings were published in the journal Reviews on Environmental Health.
An animal study carried out by researchers at the University of Missouri in Columbia further elaborated the adverse effects of chemicals used in fracking. Study data revealed that female mice exposed to unconventional fracking chemicals showed increased body weight, increased heart weight, collagen deposition and other adverse conditions. Male mice exposed to the same chemicals showed reduced sperm count, researchers said. Lead author Susan C. Nagel said the results suggest that exposure to fracking chemicals may pose developmental and reproductive risks to humans and animals.
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