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Hydraulic fracking linked to hospitalizations in Pennsylvania

Rates of hospitalization in two counties for a range of conditions have increased noticeably as the rate of wells has increased in the area.

By Stephen Feller
Hydraulic fracking linked to hospitalizations in Pennsylvania
Studies have linked the explosion of hydraulic fracking as a method of drilling for gas and natural oil to increased risks to people's health, in addition to concerns about air and water quality near the wells. Photo by Christopher Halloran/Shutterstock

PHILADELPHIA, July 17 (UPI) -- A study by the University of Pennsylvania and Columbia University has linked hydraulic fracking to hospitalizations for heart conditions, neurological illness and other conditions.

The new study came out barely a month after the Environmental Protection Agency released its five-year study, which found fracking has not had widespread impact on drinking water. EPA researchers, though, said the report was not a statement on fracking overall and only considered the oil drilling technique's potential effect on water sources.

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Unlike traditional oil drilling, fracking involves pumping chemicals into the ground at high pressures in order to jar loose oil caught in rock formations so that it can be pumped from the ground.

Researchers in the new study, published in PLOS ONE, analyzed data collected by the Pennsylvania Healthcare Cost Containment Council on about 198,000 hospitalizations between 2007 and 2011. The hospitalizations were in three counties -- Bradford, Susquehanna and Wayne -- in northeastern Pennsylvania.

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The Marcellus Shale formation underlies the three counties, which is why they are home to 598 wells. Wayne County was chosen as a control because it does not have any wells.

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In Bradford and Susquehanna counties, researchers found 18 zip codes with an average of 0.79 oil wells per square mile.

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Based on the hospital data, those zip codes saw a 27 percent increase in cardiology inpatient treatments compared to Wayne County. The data also showed increases in prevalence of neurologic inpatient rates and increased hospitalizations for skin conditions, cancer and urologic problems in the two counties with wells.

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Researchers said the study does not prove hydraulic drilling has caused an increase in medical conditions, but the increase in a short time dovetails with the dramatic rise of hydraulic fracking in the area, showing that something is going on there.

"This study captured the collective response of residents to hydraulic fracturing in zip codes within the counties with higher well densities," said Dr. Reynold Panettieri, Jr., a professor of medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, in a press release. "At this point, we suspect that residents are exposed to many toxicants, noise and social stressors due to hydraulic fracturing near their homes and this may add to the increased number of hospitalizations."

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