Here’s the Most Worrisome Study on Fracking’s Effect on Health Yet

Proponents of fracking often dismiss their critics for not having sufficient scientific evidence to make their case. That’s relatively true, actually – fracking is still too new for there to be a wealth of long-term and replicated studies necessary to reach any firm conclusions.

That doesn’t mean findings from some of the initial studies should be ignored. When talking about the state of the environment and public health, it’s probably wise to proceed with caution, yet the fracking industry continues to move full steam ahead.

Finally, though, there’s a large-scale study that should set off alarms when it comes to fracking. Researchers at Princeton University looked at babies born within a mile of a fracking site and discovered they were 25 percent more likely to have a low birth weight (5.5 pounds or less) compared to those born at least a few miles away from fracking wells.

To say that the study is massive is an understatement. Researchers looked at the records for every single baby born in Pennsylvania between 2004 and 2013, for a total of over one million babies! With an excess of 10,000 fracking wells, Pennsylvania seemed like the perfect place to see what (if any) damage was being done to newborns.

The ramifications are also massive. Low birth weight doesn’t just put babies at immediate health risks – research shows that these babies grow up to have more health risks as adults, as well.

The closer the babies were to a fracking well, the worse the effects were. Those who were in utero within a kilometer were the lightest, with those within a few kilometers weighing a bit more, and those outside of this radius having no negligible effect.

The American Petroleum Institute has slammed the study, contending that the researchers failed to take into account other factors that lead to low birth weight, like parental health and family history.

The researchers had a great response to that criticism: since the study spanned so many years, they were able to track mothers who had multiple children. They looked specifically at moms who either moved close to/away from a fracking site or had a fracking site put in their neighborhood between children. The comparisons were telling: usually, the babies who were in utero near fracking sites were of lower birth weights than their siblings.

While a lot of the concern about fracking focuses around contaminated water from leaked fluids, the researchers in this study hypothesize that the birth weight differential could instead be attributed to air pollution. Since fracking wells spray chemicals into the air and lots of large trucks frequent these locations, the air in the immediate vicinity has to be less healthy.

For what it’s worth, the researchers don’t seem to have an anti-fracking bias. After all, the study’s own conclusions indicate the babies had to be pretty darn close to a fracking well to see the problems manifest.

Moreover, one of the authors, Michael Greenstone said he hoped subsequent research could point to what part of the fracking process was causing these health problems so that a “light-touch regulatory approach” could be determined rather than having to end fracking altogether.

That said, the researchers also think the evidence about the effects on babies in utero is good reason to do more exploration of the health consequences of fracking on older children and full-grown adults. Given what we already know about fracking in general, it seems like all of the studies that can be commissioned on the subject are a good idea!

Photo credit: Thinkstock

40 comments

Virgene L
Virgene L23 days ago

Let's not forget the water that can be ignited coming from faucets. Not only are people near fracking wells breathing contaminated air, they are drinking contaminated water. Are the companies going to pay for their medical bills and shortened lives?

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Mike R
Mike Rabout a month ago

There's nothing positive about fracking.

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Maureen G
Maureen Gabout a month ago

I am very concerned about the amount of water fracking uses and the high probability of contamination of the underground water supply.

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Cathy B
Cathy Babout a month ago

Very worrisome indeed! Thank you.

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Dorre R
Dorre Rabout a month ago

Research published in December 2017 in the British Medical Journal showed that aan increase of 2.2 ug/m3 in PM2.5 pollution increased the risk of low birthweight by 6%.
The effects of living within 1 km of a fracking site appear much smaller - about 1.5%, suggesting that, as hypothesized by the researchers, the effect could indeed be due to air pollution, especially if diesel trucks are used to service the site, or the site was cleared by burning vegetation.
Note that simply living downwind of someone using a wood stove for heating can also increase a mother's PM2.5 exposure by over 2 ug/m3 and increase the risk of a low birthweight baby by over 6%. Fracking may be bad, but wood stoves are worse for our health and the environment!
BMJ reference: www.bmj.com/content/359/bmj.j5299

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Patty L
Patty Labout a month ago

I concur fracking is NOT positive in any way tyfs

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Stephanie s
Stephanie sabout a month ago

Fracking is bad for all living beings. It needs to stop. Thank you

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Winn A
Winn Aabout a month ago

Thanks

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Winn A
Winn Aabout a month ago

:-(

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Lorraine A
Lorraine Aabout a month ago

thanks for sharing. Considering it is the oil and gas industry, so big payouts to the government. That study will just be tossed by the wayside. Money is always worth more than people.

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