Toolkit: Physical Health & Wellness

More than two dozen peer-reviewed epidemiological studies, and hundreds of other investigations and firsthand accounts, have shown that shale gas development correlates with poor health outcomes in people living in proximity to such infrastructure. In addition, peer-reviewed studies indicate that health impacts increase the closer one is to shale gas facilities.  

These studies show:

  • Worsening asthma symptoms are linked to nearness of shale gas facilities. 

  • Symptoms that include headaches, fatigue, upper and lower respiratory complaints, and skin rashes have been reported near well pads. 

  • Babies born to mothers living less than a mile from wells were 25% more likely to be born with low birth weights, which may lead to serious future consequences in growth and development, including asthma, intellectual and developmental disabilities, obesity, and infant mortality.  

  • An increasing number of babies have been born with congenital heart defects and possibly neural tube defects, impacts dependent on both the number of wells in the vicinity and the distance from the wells to mothers’ homes. 

  • Hospitalizations for heart failure are significantly higher in areas impacted by shale gas development.  

A question frequently asked is whether individuals living or working near SGD should undergo blood and urine testing (biomonitoring) to determine if they have been exposed to harmful chemicals from SGD. Currently, no specific testing protocol exists for monitoring low levels of environmental exposures because of the various limitations. Limitations include:  

  • Most of the chemicals associated with SGD activity are cleared rapidly from the body, so a test may not show the presence of a chemical or metabolite even if someone is exposed. This may result in a “false negative” result, which can be inappropriately reassuring. 

  • Some metabolites of potentially harmful chemicals are also metabolites of common foods or medications. The presence of these substances in blood or urine may present a “false positive” result, which can be inappropriately alarming. 

  • Many chemicals have multiple sources of exposure in the environment, so it can be difficult to determine if a positive result is from an SGD-related exposure or from some other exposure. 

  • Some toxic chemicals do not have an associated, measurable metabolite in the blood or urine that is specific to the chemical of concern. In this scenario, even if an exposure to environmental pollutants did occur, there may be no way to detect that exposure. 

  • Even if a chemical can be appropriately measured in blood or urine, for most chemicals or metabolites, there are no reference values to indicate whether the amount detected poses a health risk. 

However, health professionals are encouraged to perform routine and periodic blood and urine tests to monitor kidney, liver, and thyroid function as well as hematologic status. When patients/clients are experiencing new symptoms, these should be evaluated, recognizing that environmental exposures may be contributing to the symptoms.