I interviewed Dr. Reynold A. Panettieri, Jr., who is a professor at the University of Pennsylvania. He directs the Airways Biology Initiative at the University of Pennsylvania. He worked with a team of researchers that looked at how hydraulic fracturing is associated with increased hospital utilization rates that was included earlier on in the chapter.
Question: What initially drew you to the topic of hydraulic fracturing and public health?
Answer: I was Deputy Director for the Center of Excellence of Environmental Toxicology, and we had an interest since we’re Pennsylvanians in the consequences of fracking on healthcare. As deputy director managing the human studies, it was natural for me to get involved in the exposure question. Also there were numerous complaints by Pennsylvanians that the fracking was causing negative health effects.
Q: How did you hone in on increased hospitalization rates as an indicator?
A: Hospitalization rates are going to be clearly related to severity of illness; not everybody gets hospitalized with a medical problem. We figured in order to understand the severity of illness that hospitalizations would be a better indicator of severity of disease.
Q: What could be other reasons for these health problems besides fracking?
A: There is also air pollution as ascribed to the use of diesel engine trucking in and out. Also, stress could be an inducer of increasing severity of disease. Stress itself could trigger more hospitalization. Those were the things we contemplated apart from toxicant exposure in the water.
Q: Of the toxicants, noise, and social stressors that you and your colleagues think may be contributing to increased rates of hospitalization in hotspot areas, which do you think are the most significant and why?
A: We don’t really know at this point. All we can say is that there is an increase in some reasons to be hospitalized but not all. All we have at this point are hypotheses or best guesses as to cause. We think that it is likely a combination of all three that induces the health consequences. Our research is agnostic to the specific toxicants, meaning that we did not distinctively look into each toxicant. All we did was associate active well drinking with increased hospitalization. The precise cause of those remains to be proven.
Q: What type of research would you like to see done to confirm an association between fracking and public health issues?
A: We’re doing tons of research to understand the exact diagnoses that causes hospitalization. We had in broad strokes cardiovascular illness, but we don’t know exactly what within the cardiovascular group were the ones that led to people being hospitalized, so that’s one aspect. I think as other parts of the country are exposed to fracking, specifically Texas and Denver, we would like to see confirmation of our findings be generalized to these other sites where there’s huge increase in hydraulic fracturing. I think science needs to be repeated and in different populations to validate our findings.