Background: Little is known about the environmental and public health impact of unconventional natural gas extraction activities, including hydraulic fracturing, that occur near residential areas.
Objectives: Our aim was to assess the relationship between household proximity to natural gas wells and reported health symptoms.
Methods: We conducted a hypothesis-generating health symptom survey of 492 persons in 180 randomly selected households with ground-fed wells in an area of active natural gas drilling. Gas well proximity for each household was compared with the prevalence and frequency of reported dermal, respiratory, gastrointestinal, cardiovascular, and neurological symptoms.
Results: The number of reported health symptoms per person was higher among residents living < 1 km (mean ± SD, 3.27 ± 3.72) compared with > 2 km from the nearest gas well (mean ± SD, 1.60 ± 2.14; p = 0.0002). In a model that adjusted for age, sex, household education, smoking, awareness of environmental risk, work type, and animals in house, reported skin conditions were more common in households < 1 km compared with > 2 km from the nearest gas well (odds ratio = 4.1; 95% CI: 1.4, 12.3; p = 0.01). Upper respiratory symptoms were also more frequently reported in persons living in households < 1 km from gas wells (39%) compared with households 1–2 km or > 2 km from the nearest well (31 and 18%, respectively) (p = 0.004). No equivalent correlation was found between well proximity and other reported groups of respiratory, neurological, cardiovascular, or gastrointestinal conditions.
Conclusion: Although these results should be viewed as hypothesis generating, and the population studied was limited to households with a ground-fed water supply, proximity of natural gas wells may be associated with the prevalence of health symptoms including dermal and respiratory conditions in residents living near natural gas extraction activities. Further study of these associations, including the role of specific air and water exposures, is warranted.
Citation: Rabinowitz PM, Slizovskiy IB, Lamers V, Trufan SJ, Holford TR, Dziura JD, Peduzzi PN, Kane MJ, Reif JS, Weiss TR, Stowe MH. 2015. Proximity to natural gas wells and reported health status: results of a household survey in Washington County, Pennsylvania. Environ Health Perspect 123:21–26; http://dx.doi.org/10.1289/ehp.1307732