Study links fracking to heart disease in nearby communities by Alison Caldwell, Press Release by UChicago News, March 14, 2023
UChicago Medicine research finds hospitalizations for older adults are higher near fracking sites
A new University of Chicago study examining Medicare claims found older adults living near fracking sites in Pennsylvania were more likely to be hospitalized for cardiovascular diseases than those who lived in nearby New York state, where fracking is banned. The research was published March 6 in The Lancet Planetary Health.
Prachi Sanghavi, Assistant Professor of Public Health Sciences at UChicago and senior author on the paper, said she first became interested in studying the potential health impacts of fracking in the early 2010s. This was during the peak of the unconventional natural gas development boom, colloquially known as “fracking.”
“There was a lot of buzz about the environmental effects of unconventional natural gas development, and several documentaries were produced on the subject,” she said. “I do a lot of work with Medicare claims data, and I realized that we could use that approach to determine if there was a measurable effect on population health based on what the stories were suggesting.”
Her team collected Medicare claims data for tens of thousands of patients generated between 2002 and 2015 in both northern Pennsylvania, which experienced a fracking boom, and next-door New York state, where the practice was banned.
The team found an association between the development of new fracking sites and increased rates of hospitalization for health conditions such as acute myocardial infarction, heart failure and ischemic heart disease.
“Although we can’t point to one specific part of fracking operations as the culprit, folks living near fracking sites could be affected by exposure to things like air or water pollution that often come with fracking activity,” said Kevin Trickey, first author on the study and a former research analyst in the Sanghavi lab.
“Our study connects nearby fracking activity to real, serious human health outcomes, suggesting it’s not just a matter of economics or environmental sustainability — but that policymakers and residents alike should start prioritizing the health of citizens, whether drilling new wells or plugging old ones,” he said.
“There is a measurable association with people’s health.”
—Asst. Prof. Prachi Sanghavi
Researchers have previously found elevated levels of airborne hydrocarbons and other pollutants near fracking sites, but a clear relationship between those pollutants and negative health outcomes has not yet been established.
While prior studies have indicated a likelihood of this connection, this study applies statistical analysis to economics data for causal inference analysis to more directly connect fracking to specific negative health outcomes in older adults.
In the current study, the team determined there were an additional 11.8, 21.6 and 20.4 hospitalizations for acute myocardial infarction, heart failure and ischemic heart disease, respectively, per 1,000 Medicare users than would be expected if there were no fracking in the area.
“We don’t find strong associations easily in the world,” Sanghavi said. “We’ve heard a lot of anecdotes, seen the documentaries, but it’s usually very difficult to find the connection, even when it exists. Even in cases where an individual might have an experience that seems to have a direct relationship to something like fracking, that doesn’t necessarily translate to a population health effect, and here we find that — yes, there is a measurable association with people’s health.”
The effects were not just limited to the initial phases of unconventional natural gas development. The study found that the risk continued even after drilling ended, indicating that the health impacts could be connected to the byproducts of the regular functioning and production of the well.
The researchers say these results should be a call to action for communities and policy makers affected by fracking development. “This study provides additional evidence for those who think they may be experiencing exacerbated health issues as a result of fracking in their communities,” Sanghavi said. “I hope that these results can help communities and governments — who have an interest in protecting people’s health — by equipping them with more information for making an informed decision about unconventional natural gas development.
“Natural gas is an important source of energy in our current infrastructure,” she continued. “One could do a cost/benefit analysis and determine that the benefits of gas extraction outweigh the health effects on local populations. But who is bearing the cost of those decisions? The communities that are most affected by this should have all of the information and be a part of the conversation.”
Zihan Chen of the University of Chicago is also an author on the paper. The authors declare no conflicting interests.
Citation: “Hospitalizations for cardiovascular and respiratory disease among older adults living near unconventional natural gas development.” Trickey, Chen, and Sanghavi, The Lancet Planetary Health, March 2023.
Funding: University of Chicago, Argonne National Laboratory.
—Adapted from an article published by the University of Chicago Medicine.
Refer also to:
Compendium 8 on Harms of Frac’ing & Associated Infrastructure: “The only method of mitigating its grave threats to public health and the climate is a complete and comprehensive ban on fracking.” No evidence was found showing “fracking can be practiced in a manner that does not threaten human health directly or without imperiling climate stability upon which human health depends.”
A first: Harvard study links frac’ing air pollution to early deaths among nearby residents, both up and downwind of wells. The Guardian: “This would mean thousands of premature deaths linked to the oil and gas boom….”
New study on frac’ing in NEBC, Peace River area: “Troubling” link between frac’ing and chemical contamination in homes; Living frac’d may harm your health. Massive new gas plant being built near those already impacted, expected to increase the number of frac’d wells from 10,000 to over 100,000.
New 8-Year Study: “Significantly increased odds of hospitalization among heart failure subjects in relation to increasing” frac’ing activity near them; 12,000 patients analyzed. Lead author, Tara McAlexander: “These activities — unconventional natural gas development and fracking specifically — are having negative impacts on the health of populations living nearby,” thinks frac’ing needs to be banned. “We know enough to know that we shouldn’t be doing this”
New study on diesel pollution: “There is strong evidence that particulate matter (PM) emitted mainly from diesel road vehicles is associated with increased risk of heart attack, heart failure, and death.” Ever wonder why so many get sick when the oil & gas industry invades your home & community? Air pollution cost Canadians $36 Billion in 2015 alone!
New Study: Alberta’s tar sands leading source of air pollution in North America, Tens of thousands of people living within reach breathing elevated levels of fine particles linked in previous studies to lung cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes
New study by Yale School of Public Health researchers: Kids born within two km (1.24 mi) of frac sites were two to three times more likely to be diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia between ages 2 and 7. A known cause is benzene, released by oil and gas activities into air and water. Dr. Cassandra Clark: “The magnitude of the elevated risk that we observed was fairly striking.”
14 year analysis on upstream oil and gas production and ambient air pollution in California found: “higher concentrations of ambient air pollutants at air quality monitors in proximity to preproduction wells within 4 km and producing wells within 2 km” likely harming health of nearby residents. Findings “likely applicable to other regions with oil and gas operations.”
More Oil & Gas Industry Pollution Health Harm Cover-up. Kert Davies: “We’ve seen the oil and gas industry’s disinformation campaign come full circle with the renewed attacks on research that tells us what we’ve known for decades – air pollution kills”
Pollution could be damaging your brain, even leading to dementia but Health Canada still not making public their 2012 damning report admitting significant health hazards and risks to groundwater and air caused by frac’ing!
Los Angeles City Council votes unanimously to ban new oil & gas wells and close existing ones to *protect health of residents* Of course Canadians don’t get the same respect or care.
Above photos of frac’ing and related activities in NEBC
Above four photos in Alberta
Visualize your brain in a frac field: Air pollution spikes may impair older men’s thinking, study finds, Even short, temporary increases in airborne particles can damage brain health, research suggests
Meanwhile, Health Canada still will not publicly release their 2012 health report on potential health hazards from frac’ing, so, I uploaded it here (it was sent to me by a journalist who FOIP’d for it and amazingly received it):