Asthma attacks happen more often for people living near fracking sites. That is what a study released Monday found among Pennsylvania’s natural gas developments in the Marcellus Shale region.
Researchers found that living near bigger or a larger number of fracking sites could increase chances of an asthma attack between 1.5 and 4.4 times — depending on if the site was in the preparation, drilling, fracking, or production phase. The study was published in JAMA Internal Medicine by Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.
In Pennsylvania, Fracking Is Most Likely To Occur In Poor CommunitiesClimate by CREDIT: AP PHOTO/MATT ROURKE Deb Nardone does a lot of traveling. As campaign director for the Sierra Club’s…thinkprogress.orgSara Rasmussen, lead author of the study, told ThinkProgress that asthma is common and costly to the country as a whole. Anything that could be exasperating asthma requires public health attention.
The interest in how water supplies are affected by fracking and exposure to cancer-causing chemicals has earned a disproportionate amount of the focus from people concerned about fracking. Asthma, however, affects almost eight percent of the country, according to the CDC’s 2014 data. Almost half of missed school days in the U.S. among children aged five to 17 years were asthma-related in 2013.
Between 2005 and 2012, 6,253 natural gas wells were drilled on 2,710 pads. That’s around 2.5 wells beginning to be drilled per day. A majority of the development occurred after 2007.
Researchers in this study analyzed health records of 35,508 patients with asthma aged five to 90 years old who were treated at Geisinger Clinic — which serves residents in over 35 counties in Pennsylvania. Asthma attacks were defined in three categories: mild (newly prescribed asthma medication), moderate (emergency department encounter), or severe (hospitalization). They analyzed 20,749 mild, 1,870 moderate, and 4,782 severe asthma attacks after including one event per type per year per person.
Researchers included the distance, density, and size of the natural gas well to determine the activity level at the well. The increased chance of an asthma attack was for patients living closer to more and bigger natural gas wells, said Rasmussen, who is a PhD candidate in environmental health sciences at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.
For instance, patients near wells with a higher activity level in the production phase were 4.4 times more likely to have a mild asthma attack. Under the same level of activity, patients were twice as likely to visit the emergency room for an asthma attack.
During the fracking phase of natural gas development, patients are three times more likely have a mild asthma attack and 1.7 times more likely to visit the emergency room.
The County-By-County Fight Against Fracking In California Had A Good Night On TuesdayClimate by CREDIT: AP Photo/Richard Vogel California’s anti-fracking movement just recorded its latest win Tuesday with…thinkprogress.orgSome of the limitations of the study were lack of data on the occupation of patients, gathering data from all hospitals in the area, and only including the most recent address. The authors noted that a prior study found that even if addresses change, they are unlikely to change by a significant distance. Further, gathering data from all hospitals would likely show the current data understates the association between asthma attacks and natural gas development.
Rasmussen said the next steps for future research is looking at the exposures to assess whether the associations between natural gas developments and asthma attacks are from air pollution or the stress from living near a well. Stress is another trigger for asthma attacks. Stress could be triggered by the noise, lights, vibrations, truck traffic, and decreasing home values associated with the industry.
Understanding the exact reason for increased asthma attacks will help researchers better advise politicians, patients, and medical providers on how to address the situation, Rasmussen added.
Sydney Pereira is an intern with ThinkProgress.