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Fracking Activity Associated with Increased Risk of Heart Failure Hospitalizations

fracking drill in action

December 8, 2020

A new study led by Tara McAlexander, PhD, MPH, post-doctoral research fellow at the Dornsife School of Public Health, found that exposure to fracking activity may increase heart failure hospitalizations across large regions. The findings were published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology on December 7, 2020.

In the United States, more than 5.7 million individuals are living with heart failure which causes worsening cardiovascular health and restricts blood flow to vital organs. This study is one of the first of its kind to examine impacts of unconventional natural gas development (UNGD) activity—more commonly known as "fracking" or hydraulic fracturing—on heart health.

An industry that continues to grow globally, UNGD has been linked to poor environmental and community impacts like air pollution and an increase in heavy traffic. Additionally, UNGD may also play a role in adverse respiratory conditions such as asthma. To observe the impact on heart health specifically, McAlexander and her team from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and Geisinger Health System, an integrated health system in Pennsylvania, designed this observational study to evaluate the associations of UNGD activity and hospitalization among heart failure patients.

Collected from electronic health record data provided by Geisinger, researchers used residential addresses to pinpoint 12,330 heart failure patients who resided in 37 counties in the state from 2008 to 2015. From this subset of patients, 5,839 were hospitalized for heart failure.

"Our findings suggest that individuals living with heart failure, when exposed to greater UNGD activity, are more likely to be hospitalized, particularly in those with more severe heart failure at baseline," said McAlexander.

UNGD activity hazards such as air pollution and water contamination can be spread across large regions and impact communities’ health far and wide. In Pennsylvania alone, about 12,000 UNGD wells have been drilled since 2004.

This observational study did not account for dietary intake, physical activity, or patient occupation. In future research, investigators hope to account for these factors as well as racial disparities in UNGD effects.

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