Fracking May Have Negative Effect On Nearby Infants’ Health: Study

Researchers warn that pregnant women living near a hydraulic fracturing wells may be more likely to give birth to babies with a low birth weight, raising further concerns about the health effects of controversial “fracking” operations throughout the U.S. 

In a study published this month in the scientific journal Science Advances, researchers with Princeton and the National Bureau of Economic Research indicate that living within one kilometer of a hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, well increased the risk of low birth weight by 25%. They found increased risks of low birth weight out to 3 km.

Hydraulic fracturing is more commonly referred to as fracking, and involvrs drilling and fracturing of shale rock to release oil and gas. Fracking results in the injection of water, sand and chemicals into wells at high pressures, to crack the surrounding rock, thus releasing the natural gas underground and allowing it to flow to the head of the well.

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Problems from fracking have previously been linked to negative environmental effects to the surrounding communities, due the impact on drinking water, as well as increased dust and exhaust from drilling rigs, compressors and the transportation of the water, sand and chemicals. The process has also been linked to increased earthquake activity. The extent of the potential harm to humans living close to these fracking sites has yet to be determined.

In this new study, researchers looked at data on 1.1 million births in Pennsylvania from 2004 through 2013, comparing infants born to mothers living at different distances from fracking operations.

“The results of our analysis suggest that the introduction of fracking reduces health among infants born to mothers living within 3 km of a well site during pregnancy. For mothers living within 1 km, we find a 25% increase in the probability of low birth weight (birth weight < 2500 g) and significant declines in average birth weight and in an index of infant health,” the researchers determined. “There are also reductions in infant health for mothers living within 1 to 3 km of a fracking site, but the estimates are about one-third to one-half of the size of those within the 0- to 1-km band. There is little evidence of health effects at further distances, suggesting that health impacts are highly local.”

The findings indicate that the closer a pregnant woman lived to the fracking well, the more likely she would be to give birth to a child with low birth weight, suggesting a sort of dose-response relationship that is usually a strong indicator of a causal connection.

Fracking Health Problems

Fracking has become an increasing concern to environmentalists, lawmakers, and local communities as dozens of plaintiffs file lawsuits against the drilling companies for contaminating their local wells and exposing them to toxic chemicals that damaged their health and lowered their property values.

A number of fracking lawsuits have been filed in the United States, with one of the most recent verdicts issued in March by a federal jury in Pennsylvania that awarded two families in excess of $4.2 million in damages over fracking tainting their drinking water. The two families were the last of more than 40 families in the Dimock, Pennsylvania area to resolve lawsuits over fracking problems.

Similar cases have been filed in Texas, which is another popular state for fracking. In 2014 a family was awarded $2.9 million in damages due to the drilling company creating a public nuisance from fracking that caused nearly two dozen wells to become contaminated with toxic chemicals.

Fracking operations also face an increasing number of lawsuits over earthquakes in Oklahoma and other states. Recent research has linked fracking wells to an unprecedented increase in powerful earthquakes across the South and Midwest. U.S. government geologists now say that Oklahoma suffers more earthquakes than California, due entirely to fracking and oil and gas wastewater disposal wells.


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