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Fracking May Impact Health of Babies Born to Area Residents: Study

New research raises further concerns about the safety of hydraulic fracturing, suggesting that babies born near such “fracking” sites may be more likely to have low birth weight and face an increased risk of overall worse health.  

The results of a study on newborns born near hydraulic fracturing wells was presented last Friday at the American Economic Association annual meeting in Philadelphia. The results of the study, which was funded in part by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), appear to confirm fears that the process, which is also known as fracking or hydrofracking, may have a detrimental effect on human health.

Hydraulic fracturing is a controversial process of extracting natural gas from underground pockets, which involves pumping water, sand and chemicals deep underground at very high pressures to break formations of shale. In cracking open the shale, pockets of hard-to-access natural gas and oil are released and extracted.

Environmental groups and many residents near the hydraulic fracturing wells claim that the process can contaminate ground water and increases air pollution; claims the energy industry denies.

This latest study, which has not yet been published, looked at birth records in Pennsylvania from 2004 through 2011 and looked at data on infants born within 2.5 kilometers of hydraulic fracturing sites, according to an article by Bloomberg News.

The researchers found that newborns within that radius were about 50% more likely to have low birth weight, and children born near hydraulic fracturing sites were twice as likely to have a low Apgar score, which is a measure of newborn health. More than nine percent of infants born near fracking wells had low birth weight, and more than five percent had low Apgar scores.

The study follows similar research from 2012, which suggested that infants born near hydraulic fracturing wells were more likely to have health problems. The research raises serious questions about why there are health differences for babies born near hydrofracking wells.

Another study published in June suggested that there may be an increased risk of drinking water contamination near hydraulic fracturing wells. That research found elevated levels of methane and evidence fracking played a larger role in water contamination than previously thought.

In June 2012, the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) warned of high levels of silica dust that could adversely affect the health of hydrofracking workers. OSHA warned that exposure to silica dust from hydraulic fracturing can cause silicosis, a lung disease that causes inflammation and scarring in the lungs, reducing the body’s ability to take in oxygen.

In 2011, the consumer advocacy group Public Citizen urged lawmakers to close legal loopholes which allowed energy companies to continue fracking. A law enacted in 2005 protecting drinking water shielded the oil and gas companies, allowing them to continue the controversial process and potentially polluting thousands of drinking water wells in the meantime.

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