WEDNESDAY, July 15, 2015 (HealthDay News) -- People who live near "fracking" sites may be at increased risk for hospitalization for heart problems, neurological disorders and other conditions, new research suggests.
Hydraulic fracturing -- widely referred to as fracking -- is a form of oil and gas drilling that has increased dramatically in the United States over the past decade, raising concerns about water and air pollution.
Pennsylvania is a hotspot for fracked wells, the researchers said. In this study, hospitalization rates in three northeastern counties in Pennsylvania were tallied.
Two of the counties -- Bradford and Susquehanna -- had a significant increase in fracked wells between 2007 and 2011. No fracking was allowed in the third county -- Wayne -- due to its proximity to the Delaware River watershed.
The researchers looked at the top 25 specific medical categories for more than 198,000 hospitalizations among residents of the three counties between 2007 and 2011. They found that rates of hospitalizations for heart and neurological problems were much higher among people who lived closer to active fracked wells.
Specifically, people living in areas of Bradford and Susquehanna counties with a fracked well density of more than 0.79 wells per square kilometer were 27 percent more likely to be hospitalized for heart problems than people in Wayne County.
Hospitalization rates for cancer, urologic problems and skin conditions were also higher among people who lived closer to active fracked wells.
The study was published online July 15 in the journal PLOS One.
"At this point, we suspect that residents are exposed to many toxicants, noise and social stressors due to hydraulic fracturing near their homes, and this may add to the increased number of hospitalizations," senior study author Dr. Reynold Panettieri Jr., deputy director of the Center of Excellence in Environmental Toxicology at the University of Pennsylvania, said in a university news release.
"This study represents one of the most comprehensive to date to link health effects with hydraulic fracturing," he added.
The findings do not prove that fracking actually causes health problems, but suggests that health care costs need to be factored into estimates of the economic impacts of fracking, the researchers said.
The investigators also said further research is needed to determine how specific pollutants, or combinations of pollutants, associated with fracking may contribute to hospitalization rates.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has more about fracking.