Earth & Conservation

Migraine? Stuffy Sinuses? Fracking May Be the Cause

Chronic health problems are linked to natural gas wells, reports a new study.


Photo: A hydraulic fracturing operation at a Marcellus Shale well. Credit: USGS A lot of people are concerned about fracking (hydraulic fracturing), in which water, sand and chemicals are injected into shale formations to crack them and reach deposits of natural gas and oil. While fracking has driven down energy prices and provided an abundant supply of natural gas, some worry that contamination from the process endangers our drinking water supply. Additionally, disposal of wastewater from fracking in deep wells can trigger small earthquakes.

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But a new research suggests that fracking can cause debilitating chronic health problems in people who live close to active wells.

A study by researchers from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, recently published in the online journal Environmental Health Perspectives, reports that Pennsylvania residents who live close to fracking sites are twice as likely as other people to suffer from a combination of migraine headaches, chronic nasal and sinus symptoms and severe fatigue.

The researchers, who surveyed nearly 8,000 primary care patients of the Geisinger Health System in north and central Pennsylvania, found that 23 percent of them suffered from migraines, 25 percent experienced severe fatigue, and 24 percent had chronically inflamed nasal passages and sinuses.

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"These three health conditions can have debilitating impacts on people's lives," lead author Dr. Aaron W. Tustin, a resident physician in the Department of Environmental Health Sciences at the Bloomberg School, said in a press release.

"In addition, they cost the health care system a lot of money. Our data suggest these symptoms are associated with proximity to the fracking industry," he said.

The scientists didn't determine how fracking actually causes those health conditions. They wrote that additional research is necessary.

The finding builds upon another study published in July by Johns Hopkins researchers, which found a link between fracking and asthma.

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