Quantcast
Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

Are Cancer Rates Elevated Near Texas Fracking Sites?

Health + Wellness
Are Cancer Rates Elevated Near Texas Fracking Sites?

For the past four years, residents of Flower Mound—a suburb of Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas—have been concerned about what they see as an unexplained rise in cancer diagnoses in their community. They wonder if pollution from the many new oil and gas operations nearby could be to blame. Unfortunately, the most recent update to the Texas Department of State Health Services’ investigation still fails to adequately evaluate residents’ concerns and they are left with many unanswered questions.

Flower Mound, population 65,000, sits atop the Barnett Shale, one of the largest and most heavily drilled onshore reserves of unconventional natural gas in the U.S. with more than 12,000 gas wells. Most of these wells have been horizontally drilled and hydraulically fractured (fracked) to stimulate gas flow since 2004. Residents asked for an investigation into what they thought to be an unusually high number of diagnoses for cancer including leukemia, brain and breast cancer. After initial investigations in 2010 and 2011, the Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) concluded that although the breast cancer rate among women was elevated, there was no reason for concern and not enough evidence of a cancer cluster. But residents were not convinced, arguing that the cancers in their community included rare types and affected children and young adults—demographic groups in which most cancers are typically rare.

In response to questions about the adequacy of its investigation, the DSHS has now released a new, updated report, which concluded that “female breast cancer was the only type of cancer … where the observed number of cases was higher than expected and the result was statistically significant; this result is consistent with previous findings.”

Yet, it is not only the breast cancer rate that is worrisome: a closer look at the numbers shows that certain types of leukemia and brain and nervous system cancers (reported only for children) also occurred at higher numbers than expected. However, due to the small population size it was not possible to say with very high certainty that they were not due to chance. Leukemia is a type of cancer that has been linked to chemical exposure, in particular the pollutant benzene, which has been detected in air samples at and near oil and gas production sites.

The DSHS simply says that it “plans to continue to monitor cancer incidence in the Flower Mound area.” As a statistician, and a parent, I can say that neither the analysis nor the DSHS’s response go far enough to address the legitimate concerns of Flower Mound residents. A real response would be to conduct a more detailed analysis of the patterns of breast, leukemia and brain and nervous system cancers in the community. The statistician’s toolbox contains a number of robust methods for working with small sample sizes in addition to the Standardized Incidence Ratios (SIR) used by the DSHS, which can be too easily dismissed for lack of statistical significance. Instead, an analysis of the number and location of diagnoses over time could show if there are increasing trends in diagnoses and their spatial patterns (i.e. proximity to pollution sources). The choice of study period is also an important component in the search for potential environmental risk factors. The DSHS based its investigation on the time period 2000-2011. However, gas production in the Barnett Shale started to increase substantially around 2001 and the boom in horizontal drilling and fracking began in 2004. Since gas drilling and fracking is seen by residents as a potential cause for the perceived cancer cluster, the investigation should have compared cancer incidences before and after 2001 and also before and after 2004.

The residents of Flower Mound deserve to have their concerns taken seriously by their state’s health department. A more detailed and rigorous analysis is an important first step and will go a long way towards providing this community with some real, and evidence-based, answers.

You Might Also Like

1,000+ Health Care Professionals Call on President Obama to Halt Fracking

New Study Shows Proximity to Fracking Sites Increases Risk of Birth Defects

Gripping Report and Film Reveal How Fracking Boom Destroys Texans’ Lives

 

Hospital workers evacuate patients from the Feather River Hospital during the Camp Fire on Nov. 8, 2018 in Paradise, California. People in 128 countries have experienced an increased exposure to wildfires, a new Lancet report finds. Justin Sullivan / Getty Images

The climate crisis already has a death toll, and it will get worse if we don't act to reduce emissions.

Read More Show Less

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Workers harvest asparagus in a field by the Niederaussem lignite coal power plant in Cologne, Germany. Greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuel burning are reaching new highs. Henning Kaiser / picture alliance via Getty Images

By Stuart Braun

The UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres addressed the dire threat of climate change Wednesday in a speech on the state of the planet delivered at Columbia University in New York.

Read More Show Less

Trending

The miserable ones: Young broiler chickens at a feeder. The poor treatment of the chickens within its supply chain has made Tyson the target of public campaigns urging the company to make meaningful changes. U.S. Department of Agriculture / Flickr

By David Coman-Hidy

The actions of the U.S. meat industry throughout the pandemic have brought to light the true corruption and waste that are inherent within our food system. Despite a new wave of rising COVID-19 cases, the U.S. Department of Agriculture recently submitted a proposal to further increase "the maximum slaughter line speed by 25 percent," which was already far too fast and highly dangerous. It has been made evident that the industry will exploit its workers and animals all to boost its profit.

Read More Show Less
Altamira, state of Para, north of Brazil on Sept. 1, 2019. Amazon rainforest destruction surged between August 2019 and July 2020, Brazil's space agency reported. Gustavo Basso / NurPhoto via Getty Images

According to Brazil's space agency (Inpe), deforestation in the Amazon rainforest has surged to its highest level since 2008, the BBC reported.

Read More Show Less
United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres speaks during a press briefing at United Nations Headquarters on February 4, 2020 in New York City. Angela Weiss / AFP / Getty Images

By Kenny Stancil

"The state of the planet is broken. Humanity is waging war on nature. This is suicidal."

That's how United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres began a Wednesday address at Columbia University, in which he reflected on the past 11 months of extreme weather and challenged world leaders to use the recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic as an opportunity to construct a better world free from destructive greenhouse gas emissions.

Read More Show Less