When I volunteered to summarize the known public health effects of hydrofracking in a report of ~ 800 words I thought – that’s much too short. As it turns out, it was too long. I could find no reliable published data on the public health effects – whether individual, community or regional – of hydrofracking. There is much reassurance from industry about the safety of the process, and there is much alarm from communities and some environmental groups about the dangers of the process.
I volunteered to do this because I wanted to learn – to look at the data and come to my own conclusion, cutting through the propaganda and hyperbole both sides are guilty of. That goal proved elusive, as there is just not enough data to look at. So I have come up with a “wish list” – the type of data I think will be needed to make an informed judgment.
A multi-year longitudinal study examining the health of communities in areas of heavy, medium, and no hydrofracking activity. In particular, endpoints such as incidence of pulmonary disease, heart disease, malignancies, autoimmune disease, premature births and pre-natal weight should be measured. The study data would need to be adjusted for baseline differences in demographics, economics, smoking, obesity, etc.. between the communities. Geisinger Health System of Northeastern PA is involved in a study (which appears to be using a retrospective longitudinal design) on the health effects of hydrofracking now, but no results will be available until at least next year.
Regulations mandating measurement of “surrogate” endpoints (a surrogate endpoint is not a health effect per se, but something which might reasonably expected to affect health). For example – baseline and post fracking well water sampling, baseline and post fracking atmospheric particulates.
- I would also LOVE to see an attempt made to put this data into context. For example: If hydrofracking does have a measurable adverse impact on, for example, the incidence of asthma - but if the natural gas produced from hydrofracking can facilitate the shutdown of coal-fired power plants (which are known to have a multitude of adverse health/environmental effects) – what would be the “healthier” choice? Or, bearing in mind that the economic status of a community is one of the most important determinants of the health of the community – how do you balance adverse impacts for some against a beneficial impact for many? These are tough questions that we cannot address until we better understand what health impacts, if any, hydrofracking has.
John Carson is a pharmacist with a M.S. in Pharmacology/Toxicology. John has no affiliation with any business or organization that advocates for or against Marcellus Shale gas exploitation.He can be reached with comments to this blog or privately through member email.