Living among fracking wells is linked to higher rates of hospitalizations and deaths due to heart attacks, according to a new study.
The study compared heart attack rates in Pennsylvania counties with fracking to demographically similar counties in New York where fracking is banned.
“There’s a large body of literature linking air pollution with poor cardiovascular health and heart attacks, but this is really the first study to look at this from a population level related to fracking,” Elaine Hill, a researcher at the University of Rochester Medical Center and one of the study’s co-authors, told EHN.
Hill and her colleagues looked at hospitalization and mortality records in 47 counties in New York and Pennsylvania from 2005-2014 (the most recent data available at the time the study was initiated) and found that heart attack hospitalization rates were higher on the Pennsylvania side of the border by 1.4–2.8 percent, depending on the average age and density of fracking wells in a given county. Living near a higher density of wells translated to a greater risk of heart attacks.
They also found that middle-aged men living on the Pennsylvania side of the border were 5.4 percent more likely to die of a heart attack than their counterparts in New York. The authors speculate that this link may be stronger in middle-aged men because they’re more likely to work in the industry and have higher levels of exposure as a result.
The researchers were not able to control for lifestyle factors like smoking and drinking due to a lack of data, but they did assess demographics at the county-level to ensure they were looking at communities with similar economic and racial makeups on both sides of the border. They analyzed different age groups separately across the counties, and also adjusted for coal production in each county (another factor that can increase heart attack risk) and for rates of access to health insurance, which may influence whether people go to the hospital when having a heart attack.