Radon in Pennsylvania Buildings Tied to Nearby Fracking Operations: EHP Study

Predictors of Indoor Radon Concentrations in Pennsylvania, 1989–2013
Environmental Health Perspectives (April 9, 2015; doi:10.1289/ehp.1409014) / by Joan A. Casey, Elizabeth L. Ogburn, Sara G. Rasmussen, Jennifer K. Irving, Jonathan Pollak, Paul A. Locke, and Brian S. Schwartz

A new study published Thursday reported a disturbing correlation between unusually high levels of radon gas in mostly residences and an oil and gas production technique known as fracking that has become the industry standard over the past decade.

Writing in the journal Environmental Health Perspective [sic], researchers analyzed levels of radon — a colorless, odorless gas that is radioactive and has been linked to lung cancer — in 860,000 buildings from 1989 to 2013. They found that those located in the same areas of the state as the fracking operations generally showed higher readings of radon. About 42 percent of the readings were higher than what is considered safe by federal standards. Moreover, the researchers discovered that radon levels spiked overall in 2004, at around the same time fracking activity began to pick up.

Hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” involves drilling 2,000 to 3,000 meters below the earth’s surface, and scientists theorize that the rocks there release radon that was trapped and into the atmosphere.

“By drilling 7,000 holes in the ground, the fracking industry may have changed the geology and created new pathways for radon to rise to the surface,” one of the authors, Joan A. Casey from the John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, warned.

Researchers have also reported concerns about similar radon releases in parts of Colorado where fracking is also booming. In a study published by the U.S. Geologic Survey in 2012, government researchers found that the radiation in water in the Appalachian Basin in parts of New York and Pennsylvania near fracking work in Marcellus Shale was unusually high.


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