Effect of Contaminants on Human Populations
Many of the suspected health risks of hydraulic fracturing may impact vulnerable populations such as children, elderly, low-income rural populations and workers (National Association of County & City Health Officials the National Connection for Local Public Health 2013:1). These populations are in close proximity and contact with many of the contaminants discussed in previous sections. This section aims to identify ways these populations are at risk, explore studies that have been conducted as well as make recommendation for future studies.
Young children’s bodies and lungs are still developing, which means that they are more ...view middle of the document...
Individuals who work in fracturing are vulnerable to exposure to the chemicals and other occupational hazards of working at the wells (McDermott et.al. 2013:45). They have the most direct contact with the chemicals and procedure of hydraulic fracturing of these listed populations. Workers are at the front lines overseeing operations are the ones who breathe and touch all the chemical products that are used. When they are exposed at controlled concentrations they are okay, but if an accident or spill occurs, then they are at an increased risk of exposure.
While OSHA has studied the effects of these chemicals on the workers and evaluated the safety and potential risks for handling them, natural gas extraction is an extremely dangerous job for workers. The risks of the job are well understood and studied, however, the health implications of short and long-term exposure to these chemicals has not. One way that is being proposed to study the health implications for workers is to look at workers compensation and hospital discharge data to estimate a health impact (Witter 2008:32).
Two studies have focused on two chemicals that workers are exposed to. The first is a gas that hydraulic fracturing activities emit, hydrogen sulfide (OSHA), which is a known flammable and toxic gas. Its flammability and toxicity poses a potentially negative effect to workers because they are in close proximity to the fumes and breathe them in. The other potentially dangerous chemical the industry uses is crystalline silica. Silica is a proppant that creates large clouds of respirable dust (Adgate et.al. 2014:4). It is known to cause silicosis, which is lung disease where lung tissue around silica particles reacts, causing inflammation and scarring and reducing the lungs’ ability to take in oxygen (OSHA Health Alert). Silica can also cause lung cancer as well has been linked to tuberculosis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, kidney disease, and autoimmune diseases (Adgate et.al 2014:3). This dust is not only dangerous during the procedure of hydraulic fracturing but also during the transportation of the materials to different locations (OSHA Hazard Alert).
There have been no full studies directly examining the human health risks of hydraulic fracturing. However, there have been studies that look at health effects of fracturing on animal populations such as livestock. These findings are preliminary but could predict what could happen with human populations after exposure. Researchers found reproductive (irregular cycles, failure to breed, stillbirths), neurological (seizures, incoordination, ataxia),...