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The effects of fracking on worker health: research underway

It's been several months since we wrote about health risks to workers whose job are in the fracking industry. In our September 13 post, we discussed the dangers of exposure to silica sand. Such exposure can lead to chronic silicosis, which can take years to develop.

The topic remains an important one for those concerned about Pennsylvania workplace injuries. In fact, as intensive scientific research on the subject gets underway, it is time for an update on the impact of fracking operations on workers' health.

It's been five years now since the fracking began in Pennsylvania's Marcellus Shale. The new process for extracting oil and gas has been replicated in many other states. Now, toxicologists from the University of Pennsylvania are in the forefront of a research effort to examine its effect on health.

The effects involve not only fracking industry workers, but also people who live near locations for fracking operations. In addition to drilling sites, those operations include compressor stations and wastewater pits.

People who live and work in these areas have already reported such problems as headaches, nausea and difficulties. There also longer term concerns about the possibility of birth defects, cancer or other serious conditions caused by fracking.

Not surprisingly, the fracking industry denies any connection between its operations and toxic contamination. It remains to be seen, however, what the scientific results will show. Systematic research into the effects of fracking on health is only just beginning in earnest. But the health concerns go beyond silica exposure to other dangers, such as the toxicity of so-called "flowback" water that comes out of gas wells.

Source: "Taking a Harder Look at Fracking and Health," The New York Times, Jon Hurdle, 1-21-13

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