Fracking May Affect Human Health And Air Quality, Study Finds

Fracking may expose people living or working near active natural gas wells to pollutants. Higher levels of certain pollutants may increase the risk of respiratory ailments and cancer for people in the immediate area where fracking takes place, according to a recent study by researchers at the University of Oregon and University of Cincinnati.

A team of scientists found evidence that hydraulic fracking releases polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, or PAHS, pollutants linked to certain types of cancer and respiratory disorders.

The study's co author, Professor Kim Anderson, PhD, environmental chemist with Oregon State University's College of Agricultural Sciences, cautions people who live and work near fracking sites.

"Actual risk would depend heavily on exposure time, exposure frequency, and proximity to a natural gas well. We made these calculations to put our findings in context with other, similar risk assessments and to compare the levels we found with the EPA's acceptable risk level."
The study was funded by the National Institutes of Environmental Health Sciences to address citizen concerns.

This fracking study was also part of a project performed by Dr. Erin Haynes from the University of Cincinnati, Anderson's graduate student Blair Paulik, and the director of Oregon State University's Environmental Health Science Center, Dr. Laurel Kincl.

Fracking Increases Health Risks
Blair Paulik, graduate student in environmental chemistry at Oregon State University, checks on an air-pollution sampler in Carroll County, Ohio. (Photo by Kevin Hobbie, courtesy of Oregon State University)

In an Oregon State University press release, Prof. Anderson reported the following.

"Air pollution from fracking operations may pose an under-recognized health hazard to people living near them."
The fracking study began when a group of citizens approached Dr. Haynes, a public health expert, and asked her if she could provide them with some information about the health risks of natural gas extraction and fracking.

Dr. Haynes contacted Dr. Anderson and with the help of Dr. Kincl, they designed a study to examine the health effects on people working or living near fracking sites. The study also included citizen participation.

The team of researchers found 23 volunteers of people living or working near fracking sites and placed passive air samplers on their property. The air samplers were positioned directly next to gas wells and at least three miles away from them.

Passive Air Sampler
Passive air sampler. (Photo via American Chemical Society)

The press release briefly stated the researcher's findings.

"The samplers picked up high levels of PAHs across the study area. Levels were highest closest to the wells and decreased by about 30 percent with distance."
The team of researchers published their study in the online version of the journal Environmental Science & Technology. Dr. Anderson pointed out the health risks are to be considered as worst-case estimates. In addition, the results of this most recent fracking study cannot accurately predict the health risk for any particular person.

[Featured image via Ed Darack/Getty Images]