28th February 2014
A new report* from the United States has found no comprehensive population-based studies about the effect of fracking on human health, despite broad public concern.
The report, in the peer-reviewed journal Environmental science and technology, looked at the available research on the environmental, social and psychological impacts of shale gas drilling. The lead researcher, John Adgate, of the Colorado School of Public Health, said it was the first time researchers had tried to tackle the question in a systematic way.
His team found that many studies analysed the level of pollutants in air or water but didn’t track how they were connected to local health trends. Other studies used health surveys but did not compare the results with the health of the wider community.
The latest research suggested that adverse effects – or stressors – on local people living near unconventional gas sites were likely to be from air pollution, ground and surface water contamination, heavy vehicle traffic, noise pollution, accidents and malfunction and psychosocial stress associated with changes to their community. Stressors on workers were likely to be exposure to hazardous materials and increased risk of industrial accidents.
But the report said there were major uncertainties about the effect of high frequency and long-term exposure to stressors, as well as the future extent of development and potential emission control and mitigation strategies. It said there was also not enough baseline data to allow useful comparisons to be made between the health of people before operations began and afterwards.
The report concluded that without more research into these uncertainties it would not be possible to quantify the likely occurrence and magnitude of adverse health effects of fracking on workers and communities.
Speaking to the Centre for Public Integrity, John Adgate said: “You’re not going to find anything if you don’t look, and some people think we shouldn’t be looking, or that it’s not worth looking,”
*Potential public health hazards, exposures and health effects from unconventional natural gas development, John L Adgate, Bernard D Goldstein and Lisa M McKenzie, Colorado School of Public Health