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Coughing, Headaches, Fatigue: Is Fracking to Blame?

PHOTO: Picture of Morrow County injection well. Courtesy Donna Carver.
PHOTO: Picture of Morrow County injection well. Courtesy Donna Carver.
December 3, 2012

COLUMBUS, Ohio - As hydraulic fracturing or "fracking" spreads throughout the Buckeye State, so do questions about its affects on health. The process involves using water and sand mixed with chemicals to fracture shale formations and unlock reservoirs of oil and gas.

The president of the Greene County Medical Association, Dr. Deborah Cowden, says throughout the fracking process, hazardous air emissions are released from multiple sources. They can cause respiratory problems, blood disorders and neurological symptoms, she explains.

"That can includes headache, horrible fatigue, people fainting. Fainting is a huge issue - it means your brain has shut down because of the level of toxicity that is hitting it. You can get convulsions. You can get temporary limb paralysis."

Cowden cites a study from the Colorado School of Public Health that found air pollution caused by fracking may contribute to acute and chronic health problems for those living near natural-gas drilling sites. Cowden has been traveling the state to discuss the findings and says stronger regulations are needed to protect the public's health.

Emissions from fracking waste, which is often stored underground in injection wells, are also of concern. Mount Gilead nurse Donna Carver says more than a dozen permitted wells have been drilled near her home in Morrow County. As a concerned citizen, she has done her own research and says she was physically affected while visiting one particular injection site.

"My nose started to burn, my eyes got really itchy, my skin got itchy, I had difficulty breathing, I got very nauseous, I started vomiting, I had a horrible headache and for about three or four days afterwards I was still sick from the effects of whatever I was exposed to."

More than 170 injection sites are active in Ohio. Carver contends they are not properly monitored or regulated. She is among the Ohioans who are fighting permits for new injection wells in their communities.

As part of a two-year monitoring project, the Ohio EPA says early data collected near a shale-gas drilling well shows the air remains clean.

The Colorado study is available at ScienceDirect.

Mary Kuhlman, Public News Service - OH