Health Impacts

Sherrie Vargson lights her kitchen sink water on fire.  Methane in her well has caused her health problems.  The well is just 100 feet from her house.
Sherrie Vargson lights her kitchen sink water on fire. Methane in her well has caused her health problems. The well is just 100 feet from her house.

Drilling and fracking pose terrible public health risks. Many people and families living near fracking sites have gotten sick. Fracking uses hundreds of chemicals, many of which are known to cause cancer and other harms. These chemicals leak and spill and pollute people’s air and can contaminate people’s drinking water. Other areas of harm include noise and light pollution, stress, occupational hazards, radioactive releases, earthquakes, and more.

After years of reviewing the scientific evidence, New York State banned fracking because of the public health risks and impacts.

In their comprehensive Compendium of the scientific evidence, the experts organizations Physicians for Social Responsibility and Concerned Health Professionals of New York summarized some of the harms:

“By several measures, evidence for fracking-related health problems is emerging across the United States. In Pennsylvania, as the number of gas wells increase in a community, so do rates of hospitalization. Drilling and fracking operations are correlated with elevated motor vehicle fatalities (Texas), asthma (Pennsylvania), self-reported skin and respiratory problems (southwestern Pennsylvania), ambulance runs and emergency room visits (North Dakota), infant deaths (Utah), birth defects (Colorado), high risk pregnancies (Pennsylvania), premature birth (Pennsylvania), and low birthweight (multiple states). Benzene levels in ambient air surrounding drilling and fracking operations are sufficient to elevate risks for future cancers in both workers and nearby residents, according to studies. Animal studies show that two dozen chemicals commonly used in fracking operations are endocrine disruptors that can variously disrupt organ systems, lower sperm counts, and cause reproductive harm at levels to which people can be realistically exposed.”

New York State concluded from its health and environmental reviews, “Commonly reported symptoms include skin rash or irritation, nausea or vomiting, abdominal pain, breathing difficulties or cough, nosebleeds, anxiety/stress, headache, dizziness, eye irritation, and throat irritation in populations within close proximity to high-volume hydraulic fracturing natural gas development.”

Another experts organization, PSE Healthy Energy, offers this short summary of the science on health impacts:

  • Water and air contamination can occur throughout the lifecycle of shale gas development – drilling, collecting, compressing, processing, storing, and sending to the gas market;
  • Health impacts of air pollutants associated with shale gas development, such as benzene, trimethylbenzenes, xylenes, aliphatic hydrocarbons, diesel particulate matter, and ground-level ozone, are well documented;
  • The majority of the identifiable chemicals used in HVHF activities are associated with both immediate health impacts and long-term damage to organs and body systems due to chronic exposure;
  • There is scientific documentation of water contamination associated with shale gas development; Children and low-income families are especially vulnerable to pollutants from shale gas development.

Read more from PSE Healthy Energy

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