All-age hospitalization rates in coal seam gas areas in Queensland, Australia, 1995-2011
Authors: Angela K. Werner, Kerrianne Watt, Cate M. Cameron, Sue Vink, Andrew Page, & Paul Jagals
Background: Unconventional natural gas development (UNGD) is expanding globally, with Australia expanding development in the form of coal seam gas (CSG). Residents and other interest groups have voiced concerns about the potential environmental and health impacts related to CSG. This paper compares objective health outcomes from three study areas in Queensland, Australia to examine potential environmentally-related health impacts.
Methods: Three study areas were selected in an ecologic study design: a CSG area, a coal mining area, and a rural/ agricultural area. Admitted patient data, as well as population data and additional factors, were obtained for each calendar year from 1995 through 2011 to calculate all-age hospitalization rates and age-standardized rates in each of these areas. The three areas were compared using negative binomial regression analyses (unadjusted and adjusted models) to examine increases over time of hospitalization rates grouped by primary diagnosis (19 ICD chapters), with rate ratios serving to compare the within-area regression slopes between the areas.
Results: The CSG area did not have significant increases in all-cause hospitalization rates over time for all-ages compared to the coal and rural study areas in adjusted models (RR: 1.02, 95 % CI: 1.00–1.04 as compared to the coal mining area; RR: 1.01, 95 % CI: 0.99–1.04 as compared to the rural area). While the CSG area did not show significant increases in specific hospitalization rates compared to both the coal mining and rural areas for any ICD chapters in the adjusted models, the CSG area showed increases in hospitalization rates compared only to the rural area for neoplasms (RR: 1.09, 95 % CI: 1.02–1.16) and blood/immune diseases (RR: 1.14, 95 % CI: 1.02–1.27).
Conclusions: This exploratory study of all-age hospitalization rates for three study areas in Queensland suggests that certain hospital admissions rates increased more quickly in the CSG study area than in other study areas, particularly the rural area, after adjusting for key sociodemographic factors. These findings are an important first step in identifying potential health impacts of CSG in the Australian context and serve to generate hypotheses for future studies.