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  • Writer's pictureEnvironmental Health Project

The Importance of Keeping a Health Diary When Living Near Shale Gas Development

The last few decades have seen an oil and gas development boom across the U.S., with the addition of an estimated 1.3 million oil and gas facilities—active production wells, gas compressor stations, processing plants, pipelines, storage facilities, injection wells, waste sites, trucking services, and petrochemical plants.

Approximately 12.6 million people live within one-half mile of such a facility. Many, especially those in underserved and underrepresented communities, live near multiple sources of emissions. Nearly 3 million children attend school within a half-mile of these facilities. Against this backdrop of industry, people are being exposed to toxic chemicals with very little support to protect their health from the harm of such exposure.

The research on the risk of living near shale gas development (also called fracking) is clear, but you can take steps to better protect yourself and your loved ones. A simple practice you can start right away is keeping a health diary.

What is a health diary?

Whether shale gas infrastructure is new to your community or an existing burden, it’s important to keep track of your health and wellness in a way that can be easily conveyed to health professionals. The best strategy to create a health record with an adequate level of detail is to start a health diary. A health diary consists of regular dated entries that list out any symptoms experienced during the day. Approximate times are useful when cataloging health impacts that may be related to shale gas since emissions events may be happening at a particular time that would correspond with a specific health response. A sample entry might look like this:

Spiral notebook graphic with EHP logo on the left page. Text on right side: Health Diary 3/1/2023 woke up with headache (6 am) clear/sunny weather strong engine oil smell all day 3/2/2023 nosebleed (1 am) unusually tired (all day) overcast/warm No activity at well pad copyright Environmental Health Project 2023

Health diary entries can be brief, but the important thing is to keep track of details regularly, honestly, and without judgment. When and how you share your health dairy is completely up to you. Sometimes it may be easier to share the entries with your doctor than to speak about your symptoms, or you might want to summarize what you’ve written. No matter how you choose to share these details, a written record is much more likely to be accurate and will help you obtain the care you need.

iPhone displays heartrate information above a bright red heart and jagged heart monitor line.

Where should a health diary be kept?

Technology offers many solutions for maintaining a log of symptoms with health journal apps for Android or the built-in Health app for iOS. Word processing programs (Google Docs/Microsoft Word) could also be used, but a dollar store notebook works just as well. Choose a method of creating a daily personal health record that is easy, intuitive, and inviting to use.

Keep your health diary in an easily accessible place where you spend a lot of time. If a notebook is used, it could be stored on a bedside table or in a dining area. Seeing the diary can be a reminder to write an entry. When you’re not feeling your best, you aren’t going to want to search for it.

What symptoms should be written in a health diary?

In short, everything! To get in the habit of regularly tracking your health, you might sometimes write “no symptoms” or “felt great.” Unfortunately, many people living in close proximity to shale gas infrastructure report adverse health impacts. If you experience any of the following conditions and symptoms, be sure to note them with the date and approximate time:

  • Asthma

  • Chest pain

  • Shortness of breath

  • Chronic bronchitis

  • Lung cancer

  • Headache

  • Fatigue

  • Dizziness

  • Short-term memory impairment

  • Skin rashes

  • Burning or discomfort of the eyes, nose, or throat

  • Stress, anxiety, depression

  • Heart failure

  • Newly diagnosed health conditions like cancer, anemia, heart disease

Also, be sure to note any changes observed in your air, water, noise levels, light pollution, or general home environment. Matching these changes to health symptoms can be very useful in developing strategies to mitigate the impact of pollutants. Weather can impact exposure to pollutants that cause adverse health effects. Be sure to make note of weather conditions as well.

If you have children that are too young to keep their own health diary, be sure to track their symptoms alongside your own or in a separate notebook or app. Many of the health conditions caused by shale gas drilling and other infrastructure begin during pregnancy. Gestational age and birth weight should be part of each child’s health record.

Tips for Using the iOS Health App

The health app included on Apple iPhones opens to a summary page. To navigate to the symptom tracker, touch “Browse” and then select “Symptoms” from the list of health categories. Touch the symptom you’re experiencing and tap “Add Data” in the top right corner. The app provides a severity scale and a starting and ending time for each symptom. Make the appropriate selections and then tap “Add” in the top right corner. Each symptom can be added as a favorite by selecting the star icon under “Options.” This could be useful for symptoms that are present most days to avoid having to scroll the entire list.

“Sleep” has its own category outside of the list of symptoms. Set up sleep tracking if desired to track time spent in bed and the phases of your sleep cycle to the extent the phone’s microphone and accelerometer can accurately assess those measures of sleep quality.

Data can be shared from the app to a health system website, your doctor, or a trusted family member. Access sharing options by tapping “Sharing” at the bottom of the screen.

Note: These tips were written for iOS 15. The health app may function differently in older versions of the iPhone operating system.

Keeping a record of your symptoms can help healthcare professionals determine the best course of action in your particular circumstances. For more information about the potential health impacts of living near shale gas infrastructure, visit EHP’s Health Impacts & Reporting page.


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