Ed Stannard | The New Haven Register
People who live close to natural gas fracking wells were more likely to have skin and respiratory symptoms than those living farther away, according to a new Yale study.
The study of natural gas hydraulic fracturing, often called “fracking,” was conducted in southwestern Pennsylvania, where “there were over 600 active natural gas wells in the county,” according to Dr. Peter Rabinowitz, formerly of Yale School of Medicine’s Occupational and Environmental Medicine Program and now an associate professor in the University of Washington’s School of Public Health.
The study included 180 randomly selected households and 492 people in Washington County, Pennsylvania, all of whom relied on well water, and is “the largest study to date of general health status of people living near natural gas wells,” said Rabinowitz, first author of the study. Little research has been done on the growing gas-extraction technique, according to a Yale University release.
“The major symptoms seem to be upper-respiratory symptoms,” including “coughing … itchy eyes, nosebleeds” as well as skin problems such as rashes, itching and burning, Rabinowitz said. The study found no increase in neurological, gastrointestinal or cardiac problems, he said.
The study is being published online today in Environmental Health Perspectives, a journal of the National Institutes of Health.
In fracking, huge amounts of water and chemicals are injected into shale to break it up and extract natural gas. It has become increasingly popular among drillers.
“The fracking wells are different from (vertically drilled) wells because they drill down and then go horizontally once they reach the shale,” said the study’s senior author, Meredith Stowe, associate research scientist at Yale’s Occupational and Environmental Medicine Program. More than 95 percent of the wells in the study were fracking wells.
Much of Pennsylvania is part of the immense Marcellus shale region, with vast reserves of natural gas.
Stowe said people who lived less than 1 kilometer (0.6 mile) away from a well were more than four times as likely to have symptoms than the control group, composed of those who live more than 2 kilometers (1.2 miles) away.
The study does not claim that the wells cause the health problems, which requires further investigation to determine.
“It’s more of an association than a causation,” Rabinowitz said. “We want to make sure people know it’s a preliminary study. … To me it strongly indicates the need to further investigate the situation and not ignore it.”
The U.S. Geological Survey released a report in 2012 that shale gas had been found in Connecticut. However, a law passed this year by the General Assembly enacted a three-year moratorium on storing, treating or disposing of fracking waste in Connecticut while the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection develops regulations.
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