Reynold Panettieri, M.D., Matthew Neidell, Ph.D., Steven Chillrud, Ph.D.
University of Pennsylvania, Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health
NIEHS Grants P30ES013508, P30ES009089
Researchers from two NIEHS Environmental Health Science Core Centers found that hospitalizations for heart conditions, neurological illness, and other health problems were higher among people living near unconventional gas and oil drilling sites in Pennsylvania. The work points to a need for more research looking at whether specific toxicants or mixtures from these sites may be increasing hospitalization rates.
From 2007 to 2011, the researchers examined the link between drilling well density and health care use by zip code in three northeastern Pennsylvania counties. Bradford and Susquehanna counties experienced a significant increase in drilling activity from 2007 to 2011, while Wayne county acted as the control because of a ban on drilling in that county. Using databases that contained over 198,000 hospitalizations (including multiple hospitalizations for the same person), the researchers associated the top 25 specific medical categories for hospitalizations with patients' proximity to active wells.The analysis showed that the number of people hospitalized for cardiology and neurologic health problems were significantly higher in areas closer to active wells. Specifically, the rates of cardiology hospitalizations were significantly associated with number of wells per zip code (p<0.00096) and wells per square kilometer (p<0.00096) while neurology inpatient hospitalizations were significantly associated with wells per square kilometer (p<0.00096). Hospitalizations for skin conditions, cancer, and urologic problems were also associated with the proximity of dwellings to active wells. The authors say that more studies are necessary to compare toxicant exposure to number of wells.