Children Living Near Fracking Sites More Likely to Develop Lymphoma, Pennsylvania Studies Find
The University of Pittsburgh and and the Pennsylvania Department of Health have released the results of a project that studied three health concerns and natural gas development. Of the results, the studies found that children living within 1 mile of at least one natural gas well were five to seven times more likely to develop lymphoma, compared to children living 5 miles away from a well.
The project kicked off in 2020, when the Pennsylvania Department of Health reached out to the University of Pittsburgh School of Public Health to conduct studies on childhood cancer, asthma and birth outcomes in relation to unconventional natural gas development, including fracking, which increased significantly in Southwestern Pennsylvania through the 2000s.
People in the area were concerned about childhood cancer, including Ewing sarcoma, according to the project report. This led the community to reach out for a study on childhood cancer and fracking.
The researchers reviewed health data from 1990 to 2020 and conducted studies from 2021 to 2023. While the project didn’t find a link between living near wells and leukemia, brain tumors or bone cancers (including Ewing sarcoma), the researchers did find that living within one mile of one or more wells increased the risk of children developing lymphoma by five to seven times.
Development of lymphoma is rare, with about a 0.0012% average rate of incidence in people under 20 years old in the U.S. But the study researchers estimated that for those living near wells, the rate would be about 0.006% to 0.0084%.
James Fabisiak, a co-investigator on the project, told Grist that the results don’t necessarily mean that there isn’t a connection to the other types of childhood cancer, though.
“In any scientific study like this, you always have some uncertainty about the negative result,” Fabisiak told Grist. “If I had more patients, if I had more sample size, might I find a statistically significant difference?”
In a 2022 study by the Yale School of Public Health, results showed that children living near unconventional oil and gas development sites in Pennsylvania at birth had a two to three times higher chance of receiving a leukemia diagnosis from ages 2 to 7.
In addition to the research on childhood cancer, the project also studied impacts on asthma and birth outcomes. For people with asthma, living near unconventional natural gas development in its production phase increased the chance of an asthma attack by four to five times, according to the report.
Further, living near unconventional natural gas development was also linked to a minor impact on birth weight, leading to about a 20 to 40 grams, or about 1 ounce, reduction.
The researchers pointed out that these studies do not show a causation of diseases, but rather an association, nor did they determine which specific hazardous agent could be linked to the health outcomes. But the studies do provide more information and add to growing research on fossil fuels and health impacts.