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Shale industry fraught with health challenges

Business is booming in some Pennsylvania towns where hydraulic fracturing, known as "fracking," for oil and natural gas has increased the population. However, along with the increased growth comes increased problems related to workplace accidents and health issues.

Job-related illnesses, mental health issues and other physical work-related problems can take their toll on workers. Specific problems include substance abuse, toxins from chemicals, dietary issues, loneliness and depression and the toll of extreme cold. Injuries come in all shapes and sizes from crushed extremities, burns or whips from chains. Death may occur as well. Residents, especially females, also face risks of assault from the transient population.

Pennsylvania permits doctors access to information related to chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing, but they aren't legally allowed to give this information to their patients or to other medical personnel. Although Marcellus Shale has brought increased economic revenue to companies, the employees themselves often don't have medical insurance. The burden of paying for health care costs for these workers falls often on the employees, hospitals or government providers, which can lead to excessive debt for facilities.

The large volume of employees can dissipate quickly if the company decided to close shop and move on to another location. That leaves the facilities stuck with the bills. The shale industry, however, is tentative without long-term relationships between the company and the employees.

No matter the location or profession, employees sometimes suffer work-related injuries although they are more common in blue-collar industrial jobs like fracking operations. In these cases, a worker's compensation attorney might be able to help them navigate the legal issues that could arise. A knowledgeable lawyer can discuss the case with clients to determine if their rights were violated.

Source: In These Times, "Fracking 'Boom Towns' Rife with Workplace Accidents," Kari Lydersen, Feb. 4, 2013

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