Sara G. Rasmussen, Brian Schwartz, M.D.
Johns Hopkins University, Geisinger Clinic
New research, supported in part by NIEHS, showed that people with asthma living near bigger or larger numbers of active hydraulic fracturing natural gas wells in Pennsylvania were up to four times more likely to have asthma attacks than those who lived farther away.
For the study, the researchers analyzed health records of patients treated between 2005 and 2012 by a health care provider that covered 40 counties in north and central Pennsylvania. The investigators identified more than 35,000 asthma patients between 5 and 90 years old. After mapping where these patients lived, the researchers compared hydraulic fracturing well activity near the homes of patients reporting asthma attacks with asthma patients who didn't have attacks in the same year.
The researchers found an association between increased numbers of mild, moderate, and severe asthma attacks with living close to bigger or larger numbers of hydraulic fracturing, even after accounting for other factors that can exacerbate asthma. Asthma attacks occurred around wells throughout all four phases of well development — pad preparation; drilling; stimulation, or hydraulic fracturing; and production — but the risk increased the most during the production phase, which can last for many years.
Although it’s not clear from the study why there were more asthma attacks closer to more or larger wells, the researchers said that air pollution and increased stress levels from the noise, traffic, and other community impacts associated with the industry could play a role.
Citation: Citation: Rasmussen SG, Ogburn EL, McCormack M, Casey JA, Bandeen-Roche K, Mercer DG, Schwartz BS. 2016. Association between unconventional natural gas development in the Marcellus Shale and asthma exacerbations. JAMA Intern Med; doi: 10.1001/jamainternmed.2016.2436 [Online 19 July 2016].