Does Exposure to Natural Gas Wells Make People Sick? Proposed Health Study Can Find Out
By Duane Nichols
A proposed study of people in northern Pennsylvania could help resolve a national debate about whether the natural gas boom is making people sick.
The study would look at detailed health histories of hundreds of thousands of people who live near the Marcellus Shale, a rock formation in which energy companies have already drilled about 5,000 natural gas wells.
If the study goes forward, it would be the first large-scale, scientifically rigorous assessment of the health effects of gas production.
In recent years, there have been lots of anecdotal reports about people who say they have been harmed by the chemicals associated with gas wells and the drilling technique known as hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.
When ozone levels get really high, asthma patients start showing up in emergency rooms. About 6 percent of people in the U.S. have asthma, Dr. Paul Simonelli says, “so we’re talking about an enormous number of people who are potentially at risk to have their conditions worsened by these exposures.”
And the Geisinger Health System database contains such detailed information that it’s possible to figure out things like precisely how far each asthma patient lives from a gas well, says Brian Schwartz, an environmental epidemiologist at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.
Schwartz, who is working with Geisinger on the project, says the plan is to use air quality data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to identify days when ozone levels are high, then use the database to answer a series of questions about asthma patients. Questions such as: “Are they being admitted to the hospital? Are they requiring emergency department visits? Are they using more inhalers?”
“Because we have 10 years of health data, but the drilling has mainly been for the past five years, we have a period with information on asthma patients and controls before drilling, [as well as] a period after drilling,” he says.
There’s one big hitch, though, Schwartz says. The asthma study alone is likely to cost nearly a million dollars—and no one has offered to pay for it yet. Even so, Schwartz is optimistic. One reason, he says, is that the research has strong support at Geisinger—from the CEO on down.
For more information, click here.
The aptly named diabolical ironclad beetle (Phloeodes diabolicus) has an exoskeleton so strong, it can survive being pecked by birds and even run over by cars. When early entomologists tried to mount them as specimens, BBC News explained, that exoskeleton would snap or bend their pins.
- How to Save Insects - EcoWatch ›
- New Report Documents Global Insect Decline - EcoWatch ›
- How a Plastic-Eating Caterpillar Could Help Solve the World's ... ›
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
- Singapore Will Plant One Million Trees by 2030 - EcoWatch ›
- Australia to Build the World's Largest Solar Farm to Power Singapore ›
- Giant Water Battery Cuts University's Energy Costs by $100 Million ... ›
We pet owners know how much you love your pooch. It's your best friend. It gives you pure happiness and comfort when you're together. But there are times that dogs can be very challenging, especially if they are suffering from a certain ailment. As a dog owner, all you want to do is ease whatever pain or discomfort your best friend is feeling.
By Tara Lohan
In 1999 a cheering crowd watched as a backhoe breached a hydroelectric dam on Maine's Kennebec River. The effort to help restore native fish populations and the river's health was hailed as a success and ignited a nationwide movement that spurred 1,200 dam removals in two decades.
Transmission lines from the Churchill Falls generating station in Labrador. Douglas Spott / CC BY-NC 2.0
Atlantic sturgeon were brought to the brink of extension in the 20th century and are now are listed as an endangered species. NOAA
Near Happy Valley-Goose Bay on the Churchill (Grand) River downstream from Muskrat Falls. Douglas Sprott / CC BY-NC 2.0
Construction of the Site C dam in British Columbia in 2017. Jason Woodhead / CC BY 2.0
The Block Island Wind Farm off the coast of Rhode Island is the first U.S. offshore wind farm. Dennis Schroeder / NREL / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
The excess carbon dioxide emitted by human activity since the start of the industrial revolution has already raised the Earth's temperature by more than one degree Celsius, increased the risk of extreme hurricanes and wildfires and killed off more than half of the corals in the Great Barrier Reef. But geologic history shows that the impacts of greenhouse gases could be much worse.
- Earth Is Hurtling Towards a Catastrophe Worse Than the Dinosaur ... ›
- Are We Doomed If We Don't Curb Carbon Emissions by 2030 ... ›
- Humans Release 40 to 100x More CO2 Than Volcanoes, Major ... ›