Drilling companies are just starting to come to my neighborhood and I’m concerned. What can I do?

There are several things you can do if drilling activity is just beginning in your area:

  • If you use well water, EHP strongly recommends obtaining a baseline test before drilling begins. A baseline water test will tell you what is in your water before your environmental conditions change. And even if drilling has already begun, it is still important to get a baseline water test if you live within three miles of drilling. Please see our Water section for more information.
  • Consider using a health diary to keep track of changes in your health (for example, headaches, skin rashes, nosebleeds, etc.) and your environment. If you have animals, keeping track of information pertaining to their health and fertility can also be useful. See our Staying Healthy section for more information.
  • Residents of Pennsylvania can request e-notices from the PA DEP about permits granted to oil and gas companies. These notices will help you stay up-to-date on what is happening in your county or township. To sign up for e-notices click here and then click “Create User.” For assistance understanding these notices, please call the EHP office.

Visit our Residents and Community Organizations sections for additional information and resources.

What are some of the symptoms people are experiencing around UOGD activities?

UOGD-related activities and facilities can include nearby drill pads, intense truck traffic, wastewater pits, compressor stations, condensate tanks, and many others. A number of health concerns are consistent across the country where UOGD activity occurs. The most common symptoms reported to EHP’s nurse practitioner (and supported by external research studies) include: headaches, nausea, abdominal pain, nosebleeds, skin rashes, asthma events, and other respiratory problems. We also know that people experience more stress, anxiety, and depression when there are environmental stressors.

Don’t assume that you are powerless to change your health if you live in an area with potential environmental hazards. Regardless of whether you think your health condition is related to environmental issues or not, you should still seek treatment. Many health conditions benefit from treatment, and untreated health conditions can lead to far worse problems in the future.

Let your doctor or other health professional know if you think you are sick, injured, or have worsening symptoms. If your symptoms are of an emergency nature, such as chest pain, difficulty breathing or swallowing, shortness of breath, numbness in the arms, facial drooping or loss of consciousness, call 911 and seek medical attention IMMEDIATELY at your closest emergency department. See our Health Issues section for more information.

How do I know if my symptoms are related to UOGD (“fracking”)?

Unfortunately, several issues make it difficult to accurately measure the health effects related to nearby unconventional oil and gas development (UOGD or “fracking”).

  • There is a lack of complete information about what types of contaminants might be polluting the air, soil, and water near UOGD activities.
  • It is difficult to measure how much pollution each individual is exposed to.
  • Health responses vary from person to person because every individual has a different level of sensitivity to environmental pollutants.

The best thing to do if you are experiencing health symptoms is to seek medical advice.

What do I do if I notice changes in my water?

If you notice changes in the taste, smell, or appearance of your well water, EHP recommends that you stop drinking, cooking with, and showering in it until you can verify that your water is safe. We also suggest venting a room while you’re using the water, to remove potential releases of gas particles from the water into the air. For example, in your kitchen or laundry room, run an exhaust fan while using the faucet or washing machine. You can also contact our office for advice and guidance on low-cost water testing kits to monitor your water on a regular basis. To learn more about water quality and water testing methods, and to find additional resources, please visit our Water section.

How can I improve my indoor air quality?

Though you can’t control air pollution outside, you can take steps to improve your indoor air quality. Some recommendations include using a vacuum with a HEPA filter, taking off your shoes when you come inside, and regularly cleaning kids’ outdoor toys and the floors where they play. We also suggest letting fresh air in your home when it is breezy outside, usually in the middle of the day (unhealthy air can collect closer to ground level when the air is still, usually in the morning and evening). If you feel strongly that your indoor air quality is very bad, do what you can to spend your time elsewhere. This is especially true if you live with young children, elderly people, or other vulnerable individuals. Please see our Air and Staying Healthy sections for additional information.

I think I’ve been exposed to contaminants in my water and in the air around my house. What types of lab tests should I get done?

This is actually a much harder question to answer than you might think. Lab tests that look for signs of toxic chemicals in the blood urine are called biomonitoring tests. While biomonitoring tests may be appropriate in some cases, they can also be misleading for several reasons:

  • Most of the chemicals associated with UOGD (“fracking”) activity are cleared rapidly from the body, so a test may not show the presence of a chemical even if you were exposed to a pollutant.
  • Many chemicals have multiple sources of exposure in the environment. Because of this, it can difficult to determine if a positive result is from a UOGD-related exposure or from some other exposure.
  • Some toxic exposures may not have an associated, measurable substance in the blood or urine that is specific to the chemical of concern. In this scenario, even if an exposure to environmental pollutants did occur, there may be no information available to interpret whether or not the exposure poses a health risk to the individual.

This information, however, should not deter you from seeing your doctor or other health professional if you are experiencing any health problems or have any unusual symptoms. You and your health care provider may be able to figure out what, if anything, you were exposed to. And even if you can’t pinpoint the cause, your doctor may be able to help by offering treatment or referring you to a specialist. Please see our Health Issues section for more information about health effects associated with UOGD, and biomonitoring.

What if I am pregnant or expect to become pregnant?

Unconventional oil and gas development (UOGD or “fracking”) can pose serious health threats for women who are pregnant or planning to become pregnant. Researchers have found that the chemicals used in UOGD are linked with birth defects, infertility, miscarriage and stillbirth, impaired fetal growth, low birth weight, preterm birth, and premature or delayed sexual development

If you have any concerns about your environmental conditions — water, air, noise, or excessive light – make sure you let your health care provider know. If you use well water, be sure to test your water. If you have serious concerns about your water quality, you may want to stop using it for drinking, cooking, and showering until you know it is safe. Please see our Information for Parents and Health Issues section for additional information.

What kinds of services can I expect from EHP’s office?

EHP’s team includes medical professionals, community service professionals, and public health scientists who are available to assist individuals and communities in many ways:

  • EHP’s onsite nurse practitioner is available for exams and consultations with people who think their health may be compromised by nearby UOGD activities. Clients can be seen by appointment in our local office or in their homes. Our nurse practitioner also provides referrals, helps clients navigate the health care system, and consults with environmental health specialists. If you make an appointment with us, please bring any medical or environmental test results you have. It is also helpful to provide any sort of health diary or other records you may have regarding when your symptoms began and ended.
  • EHP is also a resource center for information related to UOGD activities. Our staff is available by appointment in the office and by phone to address concerns residents have about their environmental conditions. We will answer questions, provide guidance and steer people toward other resources when possible. EHP also provides limited air and water quality monitoring devices to qualified residents. 

Please see our Health Issues section for contact information.