A soybean field lies in front of a natural gas drilling rig September 8, 2012 in Fairfield Township, Pennsylvania.
Photograph by Robert Nickelsberg — Getty Images
By Claire Zillman
July 16, 2015

The argument over the pros and cons of fracking has been on-going for years. New medical research released this week will no doubt up the ante in that debate.

Medical researchers at the University of Pennsylvania and Columbia University found that hospitalizations for heart conditions, neurological illness, and other conditions were higher among people who live near unconventional gas and oil drilling—commonly referred to as fracking.

The research aimed to assess the risk that air and water pollution from well drilling posed to nearby residents. The researchers considered the link between drilling well density and healthcare use by zip code from 2007 to 2011 in three northeastern Pennsylvania counties. By combing through databases of more than 198,000 hospitalizations, the team took a close look at the top 25 medical categories for hospitalizations and associated those categories with patients’ proximity to active oil and gas wells. Data for two counties that had seen jump in drilling activity—Bradford and Susquehanna—were compared to the control, Wayne county near the Delaware River, where drilling was banned.

The results revealed that cardiology and neurological inpatient prevalence rates were significantly higher in regions closer to active wells. Patient admissions due to skin conditions, cancer, and urologic problems were also associated with the proximity of dwellings to active wells.

The study’s senior author Reynold Panettieri, Jr., deputy director of Penn’s Center of Excellence in Environmental Toxicology, said the study “represents one of the most comprehensive to date to link health effects with hydraulic fracturing.”

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