People living close to fracking wells are at a higher risk of being hospitalized or losing their lives due to heart attacks. New study findings published in the journal Environmental Research compared the rates of heart attack hospitalizations and deaths in Pennsylvania counties, where fracking wells abound, to those in New York, where fracking is banned.
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The researchers used data from mortality records in 47 counties across New York and Pennsylvania. They found that from 2005 to 2014, hospitalization and death rates in Pennsylvania were 1.4% to 2.8% higher than in New York. They also found that the mortality rate was largely affected by the density of fracking wells in an area.
“There’s a large body of literature linking air pollution with poor cardiovascular health and heart attacks, but this is really the first study to look at this from a population level related to fracking,” said, Elaine Hill, a researcher at the University of Rochester Medical Center and one of the study’s co-authors.
The study found that middle-aged men living in Pennsylvania were 5.4% more likely to die by heart attack than those in New York. However, the study does not account for lifestyle factors, such as smoking. The study mainly considered the density of fracking wells and adjusted for coal production and access to health insurance, which can affect medical care. The authors of the study were concerned by the fact that most fracking wells are located in rural areas, where healthcare access is inadequate. They speculate that this could lead to more cases going unreported and more fatalities.
The study findings are in line with findings from previous similar studies. In 2020, a study carried out by veterinarians found horses near fracking sites in Pennsylvania to be more affected by a rare birth defect than those on the New York side raised by the same farmer. A 2019 study found that people who live closer to fracking wells had more physical markers associated with heart diseases.
Hill says that action should be taken to protect communities if these fracking sites cannot be closed.
“I’m aware that my previous work influenced the ban in New York,” Hill said. “I think there are also other policy decisions that can let the industry continue to thrive and let people continue to have these jobs while also ensuring that everybody is more protected.”
Image via Bureau of Land Management