Quantcast

Study: Babies With Low Birth Weights More Likely Near Pennsylvania Fracking Sites

Fracking
Shutterstock

By Steve Horn

A new study published in the journal Science Advances has concluded that babies born within two miles of sites of fracking for natural gas in Pennsylvania's Marcellus Shale basin are more likely to have low birth weights.

Researchers from Princeton, the University of Chicago and UCLA analyzed a decade of Pennsylvania birth data from 2004 to 2013—reviewing 1.1 million birth certificates—and concluded that those babies born to mothers living in close proximity to fracking sites are more likely to weigh under 5.5 pounds at birth. Specifically, the study concluded that babies born within a kilometer (just over half a mile) of fracking sites are 25 percent more at risk of low birth weights, which comes with other health effects.


"While we know pollution from hydraulic fracturing impacts our health, we do not yet know where that pollution is coming from—from the air or water, from chemicals onsite, or an increase in traffic," said UCLA researcher Katherine Meckel in a press release.

Why a study of the prenatal population, say, as opposed to other members of society? Because, as the researchers explain, it offers a localized and controlled set of data, both of which are key to establishing data correlations and trends.

"First, there is increasing evidence that the fetus is vulnerable to a range of maternal pollution exposures. Second, because the fetus is in utero for at most 9 months, it is possible to pinpoint the timing of potential exposure," wrote the researchers. "This is not the case with other possible health effects, such as cancer, that develop over long periods of time. Moreover, birth data are available with precise information on mothers' residential locations, permitting researchers to examine the effects of proximity to fracturing sites on the health of newborns."

The major caveat of the study is that beyond distances of roughly two miles, health impacts of this sort become negligible. That led the researchers to conclude that health impacts of fracking for babies in utero are largely a local affair.

"As local and state policymakers decide whether to allow hydraulic fracturing in their communities, it is crucial that they carefully examine the costs and benefits, including the potential impacts from pollution," said study co-author Michael Greenstone, an economics professor and director of the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago, in a press release. "This study provides the strongest large-scale evidence of a link between the pollution that stems from hydraulic fracturing activities and our health, specifically the health of babies."

The study points to other research which has concluded that low birth weight can lead to, at worst, infant mortality, but also attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), asthma, lower test scores, lower schooling attainment and lower earnings, among other things.

Locations of births and fractured wells in Pennsylvania.Currie, Greenstone, Meckel, Sci. Adv. 2017; 3: e1603021

What the study does not do, however, is pinpoint what aspect of the drilling procedure is actually causing these health impacts. Lead author Janet Currie, a professor of economics and public affairs at Princeton University, told InsideClimate News that a necessary follow-up study would include air monitoring at fracking sites.

The study comes years after a battle over setbacks in Denton, Texas, a city in which citizens pushed the city council to place fracking wells at least 1,200 feet, or less than a quarter mile away, from homes. After the council refused to do so and passed a compromise ordinance instead, the city's citizens voted successfully to ban the process in the 2014 midterm elections. The ban was quickly challenged in court by the oil and gas industry and the Texas General Land Office and then reversed by the Texas Legislature.

The oil and gas industry, particularly industry front group Energy in Depth, has pointed to the push for drilling setbacks as a "de facto ban" of fracking. But Currie told InsideClimate News that fracking setbacks may be a key public health policy measure pursued in the years ahead.

Food and Water Watch, a proponent of a fracking ban, did in fact point to the study's findings to argue for a fracking ban.

"This study adds to the existing scientific literature that tells us there are serious public health consequences linked to fracking," Wenonah Hauter, Food and Water Watch's executive director, said in a statement. "Political leaders who wish to protect the health and safety of residents must make a commitment to end fracking immediately."

Reposted with permission from our media associate DeSmogBlog.

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Pexels

By Franziska Spritzler, RD, CDE

Inflammation can be both good and bad.

On one hand, it helps your body defend itself from infection and injury. On the other hand, chronic inflammation can lead to weight gain and disease.

Read More Show Less
Pexels

By Dan Nosowitz

It's no secret that the past few years have been disastrous for the American farming industry.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Pexels

By Gavin Van De Walle, MS, RD

Medium-chain triglyceride (MCT) oil and coconut oil are fats that have risen in popularity alongside the ketogenic, or keto, diet.

Read More Show Less
Pexels

By Bijal Trivedi

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released a report on Nov. 13 that describes a list of microorganisms that have become resistant to antibiotics and pose a serious threat to public health. Each year these so-called superbugs cause more than 2.8 million infections in the U.S. and kill more than 35,000 people.

Read More Show Less
Rool Paap / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

By Franziska Spritzler, RD, CDE

Inflammation can be good or bad depending on the situation.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored

By Joe Vukovich

Under the guise of responding to consumer complaints that today's energy- and water-efficient dishwashers take too long, the Department of Energy has proposed creating a new class of dishwashers that wouldn't be subject to any water or energy efficiency standards at all. The move would not only undermine three decades of progress for consumers and the environment, it is based on serious distortions of fact regarding today's dishwashers.

Read More Show Less

By Emily Moran

If you have oak trees in your neighborhood, perhaps you've noticed that some years the ground is carpeted with their acorns, and some years there are hardly any. Biologists call this pattern, in which all the oak trees for miles around make either lots of acorns or almost none, "masting."

Read More Show Less

By Catherine Davidson

Tashi Yudon peeks out from behind a net curtain at the rooftops below and lets out a sigh, her breath frosting on the windowpane in front of her.

Some 700 kilometers away in the capital city Delhi, temperatures have yet to dip below 25 degrees Celsius, but in Spiti there is already an atmosphere of impatient expectation as winter settles over the valley.

Read More Show Less