NO… study does not link fracking activity with asthma

A new study attempts to link fracking activity with asthma attacks.

A few thoughts:

  • The study does not consider exposure to asthma-triggering allergens.
  • The researchers did not examine medical records that could indicate causes of asthma attacks.
  • The fracking activity level is subjectively estimated.
  • The study contains no air quality measurements.
  • The funding author (Schwartz) works for the Post Carbon Institute.

Conclusion: This study is activist-funded junk science.

The media release and abstract are below.

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Study: Fracking industry wells associated with increased risk of asthma attacks
Evidence growing of health problems linked to active unconventional natural gas wells

JOHNS HOPKINS UNIVERSITY BLOOMBERG SCHOOL OF PUBLIC HEALTH

People with asthma who live near bigger or larger numbers of active unconventional natural gas wells operated by the fracking industry in Pennsylvania are 1.5 to four times likelier to have asthma attacks than those who live farther away, new Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health research suggests.

The findings, published July 18 in JAMA Internal Medicine, add to a growing body of evidence tying the fracking industry to health concerns. Health officials have been concerned about the effect of this type of drilling on air and water quality, as well as the stress of living near a well where just developing the site of the well can require more than 1,000 truck trips on once-quiet roads. The fracking industry has developed more than 9,000 wells in Pennsylvania in just the past decade.

“Ours is the first to look at asthma but we now have several studies suggesting adverse health outcomes related to the drilling of unconventional natural gas wells,” says study leader Sara G. Rasmussen, MHS, a PhD candidate in the Bloomberg School’s Department of Environmental Health Sciences. “Going forward, we need to focus on the exact reasons why these things are happening, because if we know why, we can help make the industry safer.”

For the study, Rasmussen and her colleagues analyzed health records from 2005 through 2012 from the Geisinger Health System, a health care provider that covers 40 counties in north and central Pennsylvania. The study is a joint effort of the Bloomberg School and the Geisinger Health System. The Hopkins researchers identified more than 35,000 asthma patients between the ages of five and 90 years. They identified 20,749 mild attacks (requiring a corticosteroid prescription), 1,870 moderate ones (requiring an emergency room visit) and 4,782 severe attacks (requiring hospitalization). 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.

Those who lived closer to a large number or bigger active natural gas wells were significantly more likely – 1.5 to four times more likely – to suffer asthma attacks. And while these asthma attacks were likely to occur more frequently around wells throughout the four phases of the development process, the researchers found that the increased risk was greater during the production phase, which can last many years. The findings held up even when accounting for other factors that can exacerbate asthma, including proximity to major roads, family history, smoking, socioeconomics and more.

The new study can’t pinpoint why asthma attacks are more likely closer to more or larger wells, though researchers say that air pollution and increased stress levels from the noise, traffic and other community impacts associated with the industry could play a role. In previous research, stress has been implicated in substantially increasing the risk of asthma attacks.

Previous research has linked the fracking industry, for example, to an increase in such adverse reproductive outcomes as preterm births and lower birth weights, and also to a variety of symptoms such as those involving the skin or upper respiratory tract. The researchers say that drilling and production of wells has become safer and cleaner in the past years, something that would not be captured in this study.

“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.”

Schwartz says that since they do not know exactly what may be increasing the risk of asthma attacks near more or bigger wells, patients should just follow usual, common-sense approaches to managing their condition. These include seeking immediate treatment if they have symptoms of an asthma attack such as increased wheezing, cough, or shortness of breath. Stress reduction techniques may also be useful, as may avoiding odors and staying indoors during periods of the day when air pollution may be worse.

The well development process also has several environmental and community impacts. When the well pads are created, diesel equipment is used to clear acres of land, transport equipment and drill the wells themselves. Drilling down thousands of feet and then horizontally many more thousands of feet requires heavy equipment to break up the shale where the gas sits. Hydraulic fracturing (fracking) then involves injecting millions of liters of water mixed with chemicals and sand to fracture the shale. The fluids are then pumped back to the surface. The gas itself also releases pollutants and leaks can be common. Noise, light, vibration, and truck traffic can be observed near wells, contributing to sleep problems and potentially decreasing home values, both of which could contribute to stress.

Energy companies started producing natural gas using fracking when gas prices were high and supplies were low. While New York State has banned fracking altogether and there is a moratorium on it in Maryland, Pennsylvania has embraced the industry. Hydraulic fracturing has expanded rapidly in recent years in the western half of the country in states such as Colorado, North Dakota and Wyoming. In the East, West Virginia and Ohio also allow it.

Maryland’s moratorium is set to expire in October 2017. The moratorium was passed in 2015 out of concern about fracking’s potentially negative environmental effects but without benefit of the more recent scientific evidence. Schwartz says Maryland regulators should consider these new findings when they decide whether or how to allow drilling.

“Going forward, everyone can learn from Pennsylvania’s experience,” he says. “State regulatory bodies should use the growing number of health studies to understand the possible environmental and public health impacts of this industry and how to minimize them.”

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4 thoughts on “NO… study does not link fracking activity with asthma”

  1. I had asthma as kid, so i know firth hand this study is trash

    If you frequently experience shortness of breath or you hear a whistling or wheezy sound in your chest when you breathe, you may have asthma — a chronic condition that causes inflammation and narrowing of the bronchial tubes, the passageways that allow air to enter and leave the lungs. If people with asthma are exposed to a substance to which they are sensitive or a situation that changes their regular breathing patterns, the symptoms can become more severe.

    Asthma symptoms affect an estimated 26 million Americans — 19 million adults and 7 million children — and are one of the leading causes of absences from work and school. Asthma often runs in families; according to the World Health Organization, about half the cases are due to genetic susceptibility and half result from environmental factors. Although there is no cure for asthma, effective treatments are available. Asthma can be best managed by seeing an allergist.

    There are two types of asthma: allergic (caused by exposure to an allergen) and nonallergic (caused by stress, exercise, illnesses like a cold or the flu, or exposure to extreme weather, irritants in the air or some medications).

    Asthma Symptoms

    Coughing
    Shortness of breath
    Chest tightness
    Wheezing (a whistling or squeaky sound in your chest when you breathe, especially when exhaling)
    For more detailed information, visit the asthma symptoms page.

    Asthma Triggers

    Outdoor allergens, such as pollens from grass, trees and weeds
    Indoor allergens, such as pet dander, dust mites and mold
    Certain drugs and food additives
    Irritants in the air, such as smoke, chemical fumes and strong odors
    Colds, the flu or other illnesses
    Exercise (although people with asthma can benefit from some exercise)
    Stress
    Weather conditions, such as cold air or extremely dry, wet or windy weather
    Asthma Management and Treatment

    Prevention of symptoms is the best strategy. A person with asthma should know what situations trigger an attack and avoid them whenever possible. If asthma attacks are severe, are unpredictable or flare up more than twice a week, consultation with an allergist can help to determine their cause and provide long-term treatment that controls or eliminates the symptoms.

    For more detailed information, visit the asthma treatment page.

    Asthma Facts and Figures

    Studies show that people with asthma who see a specialist, such as an allergist, reduce their:

    Symptoms
    Emergency room visits
    Hospital stays
    Visits to the doctor because they are sick
    Missed days from work or school
    Health care costs
    If asthma is left unmanaged or is misdiagnosed, it can be deadly:

    Asthma is among the most common chronic childhood illnesses, accounting for 10.5 million missed school days a year. It also accounts for 14.2 million lost workdays for adults.
    Every year, about 14 million Americans see a doctor for asthma. About 1.4 million patients visit a hospital outpatient department for asthma; almost 1.75 million go to a hospital emergency room.
    The number of people in the U.S. diagnosed with asthma is increasing. The greatest rise in asthma rates is among black children, with an almost 50 percent increase from 2001 through 2009.
    Researchers estimate asthma-related costs, including the direct cost of health care and indirect costs such as decreased worker productivity, at around $60 billion annually.
    Many people with asthma manage the condition well and can live a healthy and productive life by avoiding triggers and following their allergists’ instructions. If left unmanaged or misdiagnosed, asthma can be fatal; about 3,300 people die from it annually.
    http://acaai.org/asthma/about

  2. It is interesting that in the MSM and even in most climate blogs, the 4th most common cause of asthma (at least in the US) is acid reflux; when my now-frustrated doctor tested this cause, after all of the lung-only-related causes, my asthma came under control within 3 days of starting a positive-ion emission inhibitor (omeprazole). I’m still subject to transient irritations such as field-burning (where I work outside town in farm country), but most of my symptoms are very well moderated now. Seems that the lesion(s) caused by the stomach acid are subject to particulate and other atmospheric contents as well, so is any given attack I have caused by the topical irritant, or the underlying lesions? If the question isn’t asked, the answer might be inaccurate.

  3. I actually meant that it is interesting that in the MSM…, there is no mention of the 4th…

  4. You see the word ‘Bloomberg’ in the title of the institution, and you know the study had an agenda all along. Bloomberg is all on the AGW gravy train, and pushes the NWO on bloomberg.com

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