Study: Natural gas wells, fracking linked to health issues

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GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. (KJCT) -- A study published last week in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives found that people with the highest exposure to active natural gas wells using hydraulic fracturing are nearly twice as likely to suffer from a combination of migraine headaches, chronic nasal and sinus symptoms, and severe fatigue.

The study by surveyed nearly 8,000 people in Pennsylvania and linked the self-reported health measures with the size and number of wells, as well as the distance between wells and people's homes.

While the study by medical researchers at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health focused on Pennsylvania, residents of the Western Slope have also expressed concerns about the health impacts of natural gas development.

We asked Western Slope residents their opinions on the study and if they had concerns about the health impacts of natural gas industry operations.

"If we don't take care of the environment, the environment is not going to take care of us," said Joe Marso, a Grand Valley resident.

Most people we spoke with expressed at least some concern about the potential impacts of the industry.

“I can't imagine that there would be no side effects that people would experience,” said Ryan Alsheimer, who is concerned about the study.

But others questioned whether the study provides the definitive answer.

“As far as the study goes it’s important to differentiate from causation and correlation, this study doesn't prove causation—that wells actually cause people to be sick—but it’s trying to correlate,” said Dr. Robert Boyer.

In other words, if one action is linked to another then they are correlated, but just because two things occur together, does not necessarily mean that one caused the other.

The study points to stressors such as odors, noise, bright lights and heavy truck traffic as common triggers of migraines.

“There are a lot of different chemicals or products or toxins that trigger migraines —it can be something airborne that's triggering a migraine – that's certainly possible,” said Dr. Boyer.

Grand Valley residents have mixed concerns.

“So as long as it’s done correctly and the community as a whole can benefit from it I’m all for it,” said Marso. “But if it’s not going to be done correctly, and people and the environment are in danger, it should not be done.”

“It’s kind of a double edged sword. We have an obligation to generate commerce and help the economy but we have to do it responsibility,” Alsheimer said. “We can't cut corner at the expense of the environment.”

The study concluded that there is not a direct cause and effect found between unconventional natural gas wells and these medical issues, but they do say there is a possible correlation and research to suggest a connection.

The research also highlights that those migraines, respiratory problems, and fatigue can have debilitating impacts on people's lives and cost the health care system a lot of money.

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