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“Study: More fracking health concerns than previously thought”

May 9, 2013
Children using asthma inhaler

Children using asthma inhaler. In Texas, 1 in 4 children in the six counties with heaviest shale gas drilling had developed asthma by 2010, compared to 1 in 7 children statewide, a hospital system found. Residents are also being newly diagnosed with asthma in Pennslylvania and other fracked states after drilling, fracking, flaring, and compressor stations emit hazardous air pollutants. Photo: Science Photo Library.

The academic, scientific and public health authorities often move with agonizing slowness where industrial threats to public health are concerned. One rabid bat will get a much swifter, more complete, expensive and dramatic response from public health authorities, typically, compared to large-scale threats to public health emerging from industry.

In this context, the fact that a physician researcher can get any funding at all to study health concerns related to shale gas drilling in Pennsylvania, and the fact that such a study is picked up by the press, is cause for celebration.

On April 28th, 2013, Dr. Poune Saberi presented the findings of a pilot study about health concerns linked to shale gas development in Bradford County, Pennsylvania, at the American Occupational Health Conference in Orlando, Florida.

On April 29th, United Press International (UPI) published “Study: More fracking health concerns than previously thought“:

PHILADELPHIA, April 29 (UPI) — People living near gas hydraulic fracturing sites are more concerned than had been thought about possible health effects of the drilling, U.S. researchers say.

Dr. Poune Saberi of the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania and the Center of Excellence in Environmental Toxicology and colleagues collected responses from 72 adults visiting a primary care physician’s office in the hydrofracking-heavy area of Bradford County, Pa.

The study participants volunteered to complete an investigator-facilitated survey. Twenty-two percent of the participants said the hydrofracking might be the cause of such health concerns as sinus problems, sleeping difficulties and gastrointestinal problems.

“Almost a quarter of participants consider natural gas operations to be a contributor to their health issues, indicating that there is clearly a concern among residents that should be addressed,” Saberi said in a statement.

Within the 22 percent of responders, 13 percent viewed drilling to be the cause of their current health complaints and 9 percent were concerned future health problems can be caused by natural gas operations, said Saberi, the principal investigator.

The previous health complaints by participants were thought to be anecdotal in nature as they were individual cases reported publicly only by popular media, the study said.

Read more:

This study, like the peer-reviewed Bamberger and Oswald study, “Impacts of gas drilling on human and animal health,” (New Solutions: 2012) before it, may contribute to the public’s understanding of the seriousness of shale gas drilling’s  health impacts and potential impacts.  It’s a drop in the bucket of public understanding of both acute and cumulative health impacts, at this point.  And a bucketful of studies are needed to counterbalance the historic tendency of state and federal agencies to give priority to industries’ right to harm public health for decades with dangerous, often deadly activities  — whether it’s the use of lead in paint; unsafe disposal of industrial solvents; the killing fog of pesticides, deadly additives in cigarettes, or the toxic chemicals emitted into air, water, and soil throughout the life cycle of shale gas development.

Dr. Saberi has had to spell out her objectives clearly, carefully, and somewhat narrowly. Even so, it’s easy to misunderstand the scope of her study through limited press reports, so here, for the record, is the abstract:


Pennsylvania residents and workers have been reporting multiple health-related symptoms that they believe are related to natural gas extraction and processing. High volume hydraulic fracturing is a step in a series of complex operations that release natural gas from deep geological formations. The residents and workers either live in proximity to or work on an operation that is associated with one of the steps, e.g., the multi-well pad, the flow-back waste pond or compressor station. These reports indicate that there may be a link between natural gas operations and health complaints but the public health implications are not well understood. The objective of the proposed clinical survey is to evaluate and characterize the perceived environmental causes of health symptoms in a primary care office located in a Pennsylvania county where natural gas operations are occurring. By investigating this group of residents who have not previously and publicly ascribed their illnesses to natural gas operations, we aim to begin the process of exploring the prevalence of health symptoms in relation to natural gas operations.

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