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July 19, 2016

Study: Pennsylvanians living near fracking sites more prone to asthma attacks

Researchers find link between residency near natural gas drilling and higher odds of exacerbations

Pennsylvanians with asthma who live closer to unconventional natural gas development (UNGD) sites are more likely to suffer attacks than those who don't, according to a new study.

The study, published Monday in the JAMA Internal Medicine journal, looked at medical records for 35,508 patients between the ages of 5 and 90 from the Geisinger Health System, which serves 45 counties in central, south-central and northeast Pennsylvania.

The researchers found that those who resided closer to UNGD sites had "significantly higher odds" of suffering from three types of asthma exacerbations — mild (need medication), moderate (emergency room visit) and severe (hospitalization).

While the study notes that UNGD — a four-step process known most commonly by the hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking," stage — has " been associated with air quality and community social impacts," it also says that the findings are not causal associations and require further investigation.

However, the researchers do point out biologically plausible ways that UNGD could impact asthma attacks, such as psychosocial stress, exposure to air pollution, sleep disruption and reduced socioeconomic status.

Sara G. Rasmussen, the study's lead researcher, told StateImpact Pennsylvania their research was the first to look specifically at asthma attacks, but said there are other studies that have linked adverse health effects to UNGD.

"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," she told StateImpact.

A spokesman for the industry group Marcellus Shale Coalition told the website the report ignored air-quality data that showed lower-than-expected air pollution near drilling sites.

The study looked at patients' records between the period of 2005-2012, and the spokesperson also criticized the fact that comparative data from years past was not included, adding that the group welcomes and encourages "sound, accurate and fact-based research."

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