Natural gas flaring near a school. Kellly Finan

Study: Fracking Chemicals Harm Kids' Brains

A new study from the Center for Environmental Health adds to the growing body of evidence that unconventional oil and gas (UOG), which includes fracking, is harmful to human health and especially hazardous to vulnerable populations, including newborns and children.

During the fracking process, a mixture of water, sand and chemicals is directed at high pressures into shale beds to release petroleum resources. This slurry involves the use of nearly 700 chemicals, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency found.

The new research, published Wednesday in Reviews on Environmental Health, examined five particular air and water pollutants that are widely used in or byproducts of UOG development and operations—heavy metals, particulate matter, polycyclic aromatic hydrobcarbons, BTEX (benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, xylenes), and endocrine disrupting compounds.

"Every stage of the UOG lifecycle, from well construction to extraction, operations, transportation and distribution can lead to air and water contamination," the paper notes.

Dauntingly, the researchers found that early life exposure to these substances has been linked to potentially permanent learning and neuropsychological deficits, neurodevelopmental disorders and neurological birth defects.

"Given the profound sensitivity of the developing brain and central nervous system, it is reasonable to conclude that young children who experience frequent exposure to these pollutants are at particularly high risk for chronic neurological diseases."

This is the first literature review to focus explicitly on the effects of the UOG industry on the neurodevelopmental and neurological health of infants and children. In other words, this is the first time researchers have examined how children's brains are affected by living near fracking sites.

Ellen Webb of the Center for Environmental Health and lead author of the study explained to Environmental Health News that the research on children's health near oil and gas sites is "slowly emerging" but that "it's only reasonable to conclude that young children with frequent exposure to these pollutants would be at high risk for neurological diseases."

The authors warn that people living near such operations can suffer from increased exposure to elevated concentrations of air and water pollutants. About 17.6 million Americans live within one mile of an active oil or gas well, a separate study found.

The Center for Environmental Health research team suggested a setback of at least one mile between drilling sites and buildings such as schools, hospitals and other spaces where infants and children might spend a substantial amount of time. The researchers also recommended more research on how low levels of long term exposure from multiple drilling chemicals might affect people's health, mandatory testing of industrial chemicals used on sites, and more transparency of chemicals used in UOG.

Show Comments ()
Airbus, Rolls-Royce and Siemens are developing hybrid electric commercial airplane plane. Airbus

Norway Aims for Electric Planes to Help Slow Climate Change

Norway—home to the world's highest per capita number of all-electric cars—is also planning to go emission-free in the friendly skies.

The Scandinavian country aims to be the first in the world to switch to electric air transport.

Keep reading... Show less
A massive sinkhole in Winkler County, Texas. Google Earth

Large Swath of Texas Oil Patch Rapidly Sinking and Uplifting, Study Finds

West Texas is already home to two giant sinkholes near the town of Wink caused by intensive oil and gas operations. Now, according to an unprecedented study, the "Wink Sinks" might not remain the last in the region.

Geophysicists at Southern Methodist University (SMU) in Dallas have found rapid rates of ground movement at various locations across a 4,000-square-mile swath around the two sinkholes. This area is known for processing extractions from the oil-rich Permian Basin.

Keep reading... Show less

Study Shows Some Pesticides More Bee-Safe Than Others, But Are Any Pesticides Eco-Friendly?

A study published Thursday in Current Biology is being hailed in a University of Exeter press release as a major "breakthrough" in developing bee-friendly insecticides. But some environmentalists think the research is asking the wrong questions to begin with.

Keep reading... Show less
Parks & Wildlife Service, Western Australia / Twitter

More Than 140 Whales Dead After Mass Stranding in Western Australia

More than 150 short-finned pilot whales stranded en masse at Hamelin Bay on the west coast of Australia early Friday morning.

Most of the whales did not survive after beaching themselves, according to Jeremy Chick, incident controller at Western Australia's Parks & Wildlife Service.

Keep reading... Show less
Renewable Energy

Tech Giant Microsoft Signs Largest Corporate Solar Agreement in the U.S.

By Katrine Tilgaard Petersen

Microsoft has announced the single largest corporate purchase of solar power ever seen in the U.S., signing an agreement with sPower to add 315 MW of electricity via two solar projects in Virginia.

Microsoft has been powered by 100 percent renewable electricity since 2014. In 2015, the tech giant joined RE100, a global corporate leadership initiative by The Climate Group in partnership with CDP, now bringing together 130 ambitious companies committed to sourcing entirely renewable power.

Keep reading... Show less

The New Government Omnibus Spending Bill Shows That Science Advocacy Matters

By Yogin Kothari

After a long wait, late Wednesday night, Congress posted a spending agreement for the rest of the 2018 fiscal year. For the most part, we achieved significant victories, especially given the challenging political environment, in repelling proposals that would have directly undermined the role of science in public health and environmental policymaking.

Keep reading... Show less

Pipeline Leaks 42,000 Gallons Into Indiana Stream

Forty-two thousand gallons of diesel spilled from a Marathon Petroleum Corporation pipeline into Big Creek in Posey Creek, Indiana before the leak was detected Tuesday evening, U.S. News & World Report reported Wednesday.

The pipeline was immediately shut off, and workers contained the spill with two booms before it reached the Wabash River.

Keep reading... Show less

Skylines to Switch Off as Millions Connect to the Planet to Celebrate Earth Hour 2018

On Saturday, March 24 at 8:30 p.m. local time, skylines around the world will go dark as millions celebrate WWF's Earth Hour to spark global awareness and action on nature and the environment.

From the Eiffel Tower to the Empire State Building, and the Bird's Nest stadium to Burj Khalifa, thousands of landmarks will switch off their lights in solidarity for the planet, urging individuals, businesses and governments worldwide to move forward the conversations and solutions we need to build a healthy, sustainable future for all.

Keep reading... Show less


The best of EcoWatch, right in your inbox. Sign up for our email newsletter!