Considering the Health Impact of Fracking

Issue Date: 
November 16, 2015

Local and national health experts will gather at the University of Pittsburgh to discuss how hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” of Marcellus Shale affects public health. 

“Straight Scoop on Shale,” the third annual Shale and Public Health conference, will be held from 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. on Nov. 18 in Pitt’s University Club, Ballroom B. The conference is free to attend, but there will be a $14 charge for lunch. Additional information and advance registration are available at

The daylong event will focus on shale gas operations and potential health problems caused by toxins associated with fracking, which is the process of injecting liquid at high pressure into subterranean rocks to force open existing fissures and extract oil or gas. 

Bruce PittBruce Pitt, professor and chair of the Department of Environmental and Occupational Health in Pitt’s Graduate School of Public Health, will present recently published research on birth outcomes from families who live near shale gas operations. The Pitt Health research team surveyed birth outcomes for babies born in Washington, Westmoreland, and Butler counties over a three-year period. The data revealed that a higher percentage of lower-birth-weight babies were born to mothers who lived close to a high density of gas wells. Although the study did not prove that proximity to wells caused the lower birth weights, the researchers concluded that further investigation is warranted.

“Our work, along with several other studies reporting adverse health outcomes based on proximity to unconventional gas development in Colorado and Central and Northeast Pennsylvania, cannot be ignored,” said Pitt. He added that the research “supports a clear need for prospective studies in large populations with better estimates of exposure.”

Bernard Goldstein, a Pitt dean and professor emeritus of environmental and occupational health, will compare German and European Union gas extraction policies with those in the United States. Goldstein is currently a visiting professor at the University of Cologne in Germany.

Also addressing the conference will be Brian Schwartz, a professor in the Department of Environmental Health Sciences at John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. He will discuss new research on Marcellus Shale from the Geisinger Environmental Health Institute, of which he is a codirector. The institute conducts environmental epidemiology studies using electronic health records data from the Geisinger Health System. 

The conference is sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania and hosted by Pitt’s Graduate School of Public Health.