Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health graduate student Sara G. Rasmussen, from their Department of Environmental Health Sciences, says that people with asthma who live near bigger or larger numbers of active hydraulic fracturing (fracking) natural gas wells are 1.5 to four times likelier to have asthma attacks than those who live farther away.
The epidemiological correlation published in JAMA Internal Medicine set out to link the fracking industry to health concerns. Other epidemiologists at Bloomberg have done the same, linking fracking to everything from trace chemicals in water to anxiety caused by trucks.
Despite causing American CO2 emissions to drop while keeping energy affordable, academics in environmentalism, and certainly paid environmental activists, have declared war on natural gas. Pennsylvania has over 9,000 wells and states like New York, which have banned fracking, are reliant on natural gas from over the border to keep the lights from going out in Manhattan, so there is a bit of an ideological schism, no different than when Natural Resources Defense Council says nuclear energy must go without revealing that they are heavily invested in fossil fuels that nuclear energy replaces.
So how many people did the study analyze? Zero. It's instead epidemiological matching, they examined health records of the Geisinger Health System 2005 through 2012, identified more than 35,000 asthma patients between the ages of five and 90 years, and extracted 20,749 mild attacks (requiring a corticosteroid prescription), 1,870 moderate ones (requiring an emergency room visit) and 4,782 severe attacks (requiring hospitalization). Then they mapped where the patients with these attacks lived; assigned them metrics based on the location, size, number, phase, total depth and gas production of the wells; and compared them to asthma patients who didn't have attacks in the same year.
Using that methodology and ignoring confounders, it was trivial to declare that those who lived closer to a large number or bigger active natural gas wells were significantly more likely to have an asthma attack. The problem is that the results were higher no matter what stage the wells were in, including when they were already developed. Somehow the risk was highest during the production phase, even though only trace amounts of "fracking" (no biological hypothesis is presented for exactly what is causing these asthma attacks, so just call it fracking) might be detectable at that stage.
Even though the paper couldn't pinpoint why asthma attacks are more likely closer to more or larger wells, the authors speculate that air pollution and increased stress levels from the noise, traffic and other community impacts associated with the industry could play a role.
"We are concerned with the growing number of studies that have observed health effects associated with this industry," says the study's senior author, Brian S. Schwartz, MD, MS, a professor in the Department of Environmental Health Sciences at the Bloomberg School. "We believe it is time to take a more cautious approach to well development with an eye on environmental and public health impacts."