Home > Cardiology > Study links fracking operations to worsening heart failure

Study links fracking operations to worsening heart failure

Journal of the American College of Cardiology
Reuters Health - 07/12/2020 - The process of extracting natural gas from the ground using fracking appears to increase the risk of hospitalization for people in the community already suffering from heart failure, according to a new study that used Pennsylvania data and is published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.

A research team led by Dr. Tara McAlexander of Drexel University's Dornsife School of Public Health in Philadelphia found that when workers began extracting natural gas using the fracking process -- in which millions of gallons of water laced with various chemical are injected into the ground to break up rock and open up gas pockets -- hospitalizations for heart failure patients rose by 80%.

Clearing the area where the drills would be set up was associated with a 70% increase in risk, and processing and transporting the gas through pipelines was associated with a 62% risk elevation, compared to the risk in heart failure patients who had little or no exposure to fracking activity.

The risk was greatest for people whose heart failure was most severe at the beginning of the study.

However, the drilling process itself, done before the water injection forces out the natural gas, was not linked with an increase in risk.

The case-control study could not pinpoint what might be causing the increase. Potential suspects include a combination of air pollution, water contamination, noise and the extra traffic fracking operations generate.

"There is never just one pollutant. It's a suite of site-based effects," said Dr. McAlexander.

"The most surprising result was how stable our estimates were," Dr. McAlexander told Reuters Health in a telephone interview. "We looked at it many different ways. We did so many sensitivity analyses to ask if there was something else that we're not accounting for that could be explaining away our results. But everything we thought of didn't attenuate the effect in a substantial way."

Her team looked at the cases of 5,839 people living in 37 Pennsylvania counties who were hospitalized for heart failure from 2008 to 2015.

Then they examined how close each individual was to fracking activity at 9,699 wells during the month before their hospitalization, using data from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection. They also adjusted for the type of work that was going on at each site, including the number and size of the various wells.

The relationship was seen whether a heart failure patient had reduced or preserved ejection fraction.

"This is not the first study that finds adverse health impacts as a function of natural gas activity and unconventional natural gas development. The evidence is really mounting," said Dr. McAlexander, a post doctoral research fellow in the department of epidemiology and biostatistics. "From a policy standpoint, I'm not sure what further studies we need to have to tell us that communities are feeling the impacts of this."

There are economic and energy independence benefits to fracking operations, she said, "but there has to be a viable alternative where the costs of this are not externalized onto the local populations."

The danger outlined in the new study may be understated, Barrak Alahmad of Harvard's T.H. Chan School of Public Health and Dr. Haitham Khraishah of Harvard Medical School conclude in a JACC commentary.

SOURCE: https://bit.ly/3lSxUop and https://bit.ly/36RwIx3 Journal of the American College of Cardiology, online December 7, 2020.

By Gene Emery

Posted on