Various studies have indicated that an increase in unconventional natural gas development can lead to a paralleled rise in certain health problems, including asthma, childhood cancer and pneumonia in the elderly.
However, these studies all targeted specific conditions, and no broad analysis had yet been performed to look for additional associations that may be less obvious. Researchers at the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry and Oregon State University College of Public Health and Human Sciences recently used data from the Carnegie Museum of Natural History’s Pennsylvania Unconventional Gas Wells Geodatabase of the Marcellus Shale and hospital discharge records from 2003 to 2014 from the Pennsylvania Health Care Cost Containment Council PHC4 database to determine if the increase in unconventional natural gas development in certain areas led to an increase in hospitalizations by types of diagnosis. The time frame spans the period before Marcellus gas well development began to the period after the height of well drilling.
The PCH4 data included the patient’s county of residence and the primary diagnosis. These hospital visit types were divided into 16 groups for analysis. These groups included infectious diseases, blood diseases, mental disorders, nervous system diseases, circulatory system diseases, respiratory system diseases, digestive system diseases, genitourinary system diseases, pregnancy complications, skin diseases, and others. The study was extensive and covered 54 Pennsylvania counties over 12 years.
Of these disease groups, genital and urinary system diseases were found to be significantly more common after the introduction of unconventional natural gas development. The increase was 0.008 cases per 10,000 residents. The hospitalizations were primarily for kidney infections and urinary tract infections among females. Interestingly, no association was found between unconventional natural gas developments and previously associated diseases of the circulatory and respiratory systems. However, the researchers attribute this to the broadness of the groupings.
These findings indicate that it is possible that unconventional natural gas development is having an effect on hospitalization rates for certain diseases. Additional research should be performed in order to ensure the health and safety of the residents near unconventional gas wells, specifically regarding genitourinary health.