In a perfect world all the stakeholders would want accurate information about the health effects of shale gas extraction. But alas industry and politicians avoid inconvenient facts and have even defunded efforts to collect the data. Nonetheless there was a log kept and some 85 official reports were recorded. Here’s what the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported when those were made public:
“The records, which span four years and partial terms of two governors between March 2011 and April 2015, don’t prove a connection between drilling activities and illness, but they reflect the range of complaints reported by citizens, physicians, workers and health agencies.
Environmental and public health experts said the log alone is insufficient to evaluate potential health impacts from shale development.
Trevor Penning, director of the University of Pennsylvania’s Center of Excellence in Environmental Toxicology, said, “The question is whether or not there is a relationship between the exposures that they think they have and the symptoms that they are reporting. That is the crux of it, and that is difficult to nail down based on what you’re seeing here.”
In one case, a mother reported that a third of her 13-year-old daughter’s hair had fallen out, and she suspected a gas well near her water well was to blame.
A doctor said his patient suffered chronic hearing damage after a helicopter servicing the gas industry hovered low over her home.
A truck driver said fluid at a well pad “ate through his work boots and caused long-lasting rashes and welts on his feet and legs.”
Common complaints include breathing trouble, chest tightness, nose bleeds, skin irritation, abdominal issues and noise.”
Now there is a epidemiological study that documents alarming health statistics linked to fracking. Here is what was found when the health of infants and young children in heavily fracked counties was compared to the rest of the state:
“In one of the first studies of its kind, Joseph J. Mangano of the Radiation and Public Health Project found disturbing links between hydraulic fracturing (fracking) and health effects in children younger than five years old.
In the report “Health Hazards to Fetuses, Infants, and Young Children in Heavily-fracked Areas of Pennsylvania,” funded by the Pittsburg Foundation, Mangano explains that as a relatively new technology in the landscape of natural gas extraction, fracking hasn’t been extensively studied with regards to health impacts on nearby residents. His study compares morbidity and mortality rates for several age groups living in eight heavily-fracked counties in the state with the same data in the rest of Pennsylvania. Heavily-fracked counties included in the study were Bradford, Washington, Tioga, Susquehanna, Lycoming, Greene, Westmoreland, and Fayette.
Mangano found that heavily-fracked counties have 13.9% greater infant mortality, 23.6% greater perinatal mortality, 3.4% more low-weight births, 12.4% more premature births, and 35.1% more cancer in children ages zero to four.
According to Mangano, “[This] information is only a start in refining the discussion about fracking’s impact on humans. Other studies must be conducted, on this and other geographic areas, disease categories, and age groups. As these develop, it is crucial that information such as this is disseminated to citizens and public leaders, leading to more informed discussion that will make future public policies that best protect the public’s health.”
[Joseph Mangano MPH MBA is an epidemiologist, and Executive Director of the Radiation and Public Health Project research group. He is author/co-author of 34 medical journal articles and 3 books.]
Mangano’s study is just one item in the growing body of medical evidence that fracking is responsible for serious health problems. In April a team of scientists in Southwestern PA released a white paper titled, The Case for an Unconventional Natural Gas Development Health Registry. It documents the toxic emissions present around fracking sites, the health hazards they present, and it calls for specific reporting and record keeping.
It would seem like an obvious and prudent step, a no-brainer, to safeguard the health of our families by ensuring that our health officials can track and respond to health impacts. Doctors should know the possible effects and be alerted to report them. But as someone famously observed it’s hard to make a person see what his/her paycheck depends on NOT seeing.
Are the economic benefits of fracking worth the human cost? Not if it’s your kid who suffers.
We know we should be conserving our resources. We know we should be shifting to renewable energy. We know shale gas extraction devastates the environment and does irreparable harm to water and land. We know it wrecks the roads. Now we also know it hurts our children. And we are told there is glut of gas that’s driving prices down. We’ve got so much natural gas we plan to export more than half of what we produce. Yet the pressure continues to develop more wells no mater what injustices the process imposes on ordinary people. Are we mad?