While the hazards of fracking to human health are well-documented, first-of-its-kind research from Environmental Health News shows the actual levels of biomarkers for fracking chemicals in the bodies of children living near fracking wells far higher than in the general population.
The research fills a gap in the science between the health harms experienced by those living near fracking and the known harms caused by fracking chemicals: whether fracking chemicals were actually in people's bodies. They are. Of the southwestern Pennsylvania families who participated in the study, those who lived closer to fracking wells had higher levels of fracking chemicals or their biomarkers than those who lived far away.
One nine-year-old boy had biomarkers for toluene, which can damage the nervous system or kidneys, 91 times higher than the average American. Another had biomarkers for ethylbenzene and styrene, 55 times higher than the average American. Exposure to ethylbenzene and styrene is linked to skin, eye, and respiratory tract irritation, reproductive harm, endocrine disruption, and increased cancer risk. The research is part one of a multi-part series by Environmental Health News exploring the multifaceted "body burden" of fracking.
As reported by Environmental Health News:
In Texas, researchers found that babies born near frequent flaring—the burning off of excess natural gas from fracking wells—are 50 percent more likely to be premature. In Colorado, the state Department of Health found that people living near fracking sites face elevated risk of nosebleeds, headaches, breathing trouble, and dizziness. In Pennsylvania, researchers found that people living near fracking face increased rates of infant mortality, depression, and hospitalizations for skin and urinary issues. Studies of fracking communities throughout the country have found that living near fracking wells increases the risk of premature births, high-risk pregnancies, asthma, migraines, fatigue, nasal and sinus symptoms, skin disorders and heart failure; and laboratory studies have linked chemicals used in fracking fluid to endocrine disruption—which can cause hormone imbalance, reproductive harm, early puberty, brain and behavior problems, improper immune function, and cancer.
"We have enough evidence at this point that these health impacts should be of serious concern to policymakers interested in protecting public health," Irena Gorski Steiner, an environmental epidemiology doctoral candidate at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, told Environmental Health News (EHN).
A man stands with his granddaughter in front of the Murphy Oil site located next door to his apartment in West Adams, Los Angles, California on July 16, 2014. Sarah Craig / Faces of Fracking
For a deeper dive:
- Total Ban on Fracking Urged by Health Experts: 1,500 Studies ... ›
- Every Parent Concerned About Their Kids' Health Should Read This ... ›
- 650,000 Children in 9 States Attend School Within 1 Mile of a ... ›
- Fracking Chemicals Remain Secret Despite EPA Knowledge of ... ›
- Study: Fracking Chemicals Harm Kids' Brains - EcoWatch ›
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The bright patterns and recognizable designs of Waterlust's activewear aren't just for show. In fact, they're meant to promote the conversation around sustainability and give back to the ocean science and conservation community.
Each design is paired with a research lab, nonprofit, or education organization that has high intellectual merit and the potential to move the needle in its respective field. For each product sold, Waterlust donates 10% of profits to these conservation partners.
Eye-Catching Designs Made from Recycled Plastic Bottles
waterlust.com / @abamabam
The company sells a range of eco-friendly items like leggings, rash guards, and board shorts that are made using recycled post-consumer plastic bottles. There are currently 16 causes represented by distinct marine-life patterns, from whale shark research and invasive lionfish removal to sockeye salmon monitoring and abalone restoration.
One such organization is Get Inspired, a nonprofit that specializes in ocean restoration and environmental education. Get Inspired founder, marine biologist Nancy Caruso, says supporting on-the-ground efforts is one thing that sets Waterlust apart, like their apparel line that supports Get Inspired abalone restoration programs.
"All of us [conservation partners] are doing something," Caruso said. "We're not putting up exhibits and talking about it — although that is important — we're in the field."
Waterlust not only helps its conservation partners financially so they can continue their important work. It also helps them get the word out about what they're doing, whether that's through social media spotlights, photo and video projects, or the informative note card that comes with each piece of apparel.
"They're doing their part for sure, pushing the information out across all of their channels, and I think that's what makes them so interesting," Caruso said.
And then there are the clothes, which speak for themselves.
Advocate Apparel to Start Conversations About Conservation
waterlust.com / @oceanraysphotography
Waterlust's concept of "advocate apparel" encourages people to see getting dressed every day as an opportunity to not only express their individuality and style, but also to advance the conversation around marine science. By infusing science into clothing, people can visually represent species and ecosystems in need of advocacy — something that, more often than not, leads to a teaching moment.
"When people wear Waterlust gear, it's just a matter of time before somebody asks them about the bright, funky designs," said Waterlust's CEO, Patrick Rynne. "That moment is incredibly special, because it creates an intimate opportunity for the wearer to share what they've learned with another."
The idea for the company came to Rynne when he was a Ph.D. student in marine science.
"I was surrounded by incredible people that were discovering fascinating things but noticed that often their work wasn't reaching the general public in creative and engaging ways," he said. "That seemed like a missed opportunity with big implications."
Waterlust initially focused on conventional media, like film and photography, to promote ocean science, but the team quickly realized engagement on social media didn't translate to action or even knowledge sharing offscreen.
Rynne also saw the "in one ear, out the other" issue in the classroom — if students didn't repeatedly engage with the topics they learned, they'd quickly forget them.
"We decided that if we truly wanted to achieve our goal of bringing science into people's lives and have it stick, it would need to be through a process that is frequently repeated, fun, and functional," Rynne said. "That's when we thought about clothing."
Support Marine Research and Sustainability in Style
To date, Waterlust has sold tens of thousands of pieces of apparel in over 100 countries, and the interactions its products have sparked have had clear implications for furthering science communication.
For Caruso alone, it's led to opportunities to share her abalone restoration methods with communities far and wide.
"It moves my small little world of what I'm doing here in Orange County, California, across the entire globe," she said. "That's one of the beautiful things about our partnership."
Check out all of the different eco-conscious apparel options available from Waterlust to help promote ocean conservation.
Melissa Smith is an avid writer, scuba diver, backpacker, and all-around outdoor enthusiast. She graduated from the University of Florida with degrees in journalism and sustainable studies. Before joining EcoWatch, Melissa worked as the managing editor of Scuba Diving magazine and the communications manager of The Ocean Agency, a non-profit that's featured in the Emmy award-winning documentary Chasing Coral.