Study: Children in Pennsylvania who live near frack pits have a higher risk of leukemia
Children in Pennsylvania who grew up less than a mile from fracking shafts are twice as likely as other young people to develop the most common form of fracking, according to a new study by researchers at the Yale School of Public Health. juvenile leukaemia.
The study, published Wednesday in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives, also found that children born to pregnant women who lived near frack pits were nearly three times more likely than other newborns to be diagnosed with leukemia.
The research, part of a registry-based study that relied on information such as patients’ medical histories and geographic data, was based on a review of the records of around 2,500 children, of whom around 400 were being treated for acute lymphoblastic leukemia, the most common. diagnosed form of childhood leukemia also known as ALL.
Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, is a process by which chemicals, water and other substances are injected into the ground at high pressure to enable the extraction of oil and natural gas. Fracking is also considered a form of unconventional oil and gas development compared to more traditional drilling methods.
Pennsylvania is the site of approximately 13,000 unconventional natural gas wellsaccording to the state Department of Health, and study researchers noted that from 2005 to 2014, more than 1,000 spills, 5,000 violations, and 4,000 resident complaints related to oil and gas were recorded.
Environmentalists and others have long criticized the practice, which can pollute groundwater and release greenhouse gases into the air. Oil and gas production operations have also been associated with the release of known or suspected carcinogens such as benzene and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons.
“What our results really indicate is that exposure to unconventional oil and gas development may be a significant risk factor for EVERYONE, especially for children who are exposed in utero,” said Cassandra Clarkthe lead author of the study.
Clark and his co-researchers looked at cases of children ages 2 to 7 who were diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia from 2009 to 2017. Children with the highest occurrences of the disease lived less than 2 kilometers away. , or about a mile and a quarter, of frac pits.
Currently, according to researchers, Pennsylvania law allows frac wells to operate within 500 feet (or 152 meters) of a private residence.
Clark said his team’s findings suggest the minimum distance between frac pits and residences should be increased. The study noted an increased risk of acute lymphoblastic leukemia in children who lived up to 10 kilometers, or about 6 miles, from a fracking well.
The study “highlights the need to revisit our public health policy protections and some of the distances that exist,” said Nicole Dezielwho also worked on the study.
“The allowable distance between oil and gas wells and homes, schools and other sensitive receptors can be as little as 150 feet in some states,” said Deziel, an associate professor of epidemiology. “And we think our study really highlights and augments this growing number of studies indicating that there is an increase in health problems in children, and that some of these public health policies need to be updated with more recent information.”
In addition to the children’s geographic proximity to the fracking wells themselves, the researchers said they also produced models of potential exposure to drinking water contaminated by chemicals used in the fracking processes.
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These models showed that children who lived within a mile of a well located near an underground water source were twice as likely to develop acute lymphoblastic leukemia as other children. Children who lived within 3 miles of wells located near a water source were 1.5 times more likely to be diagnosed with leukemia than other children.
The researchers said they hope policymakers will use the results of their work and other studies to identify ways to help children stay safe.
“It’s not really something that can be managed on an individual level,” Deziel said. “The onus shouldn’t be on individuals and parents to try to figure this out. This really requires higher level solutions to ensure communities are safe and their children are properly protected from oil and gas drilling operations.
Joan Casey, assistant professor of environmental health sciences at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, who was not part of this study, said she was not surprised by the results.
“There is now a relatively strong literature that shows high levels of non-methane volatile organic compounds in the air near wells and some of them, like benzene, are known carcinogens,” said Casey, who has studied maternal health and birth outcomes in connection to hydraulic fracturing. “There is therefore certainly a plausible pathway in the air linking proximity to wells with an increased risk of cancer.”
Casey also said that the fracturing fluid that is injected into the well in order to release the oil and gas “contains a number of carcinogens.”
“And so if there are well failures and some of that liquid is able to leak out and contaminate the water sources that people are drinking or recreating, that could be another route by which the risk of cancer might be increased,” she said.
Casey, who said he believes more studies will follow this one, added that the fracking process results in the expulsion of methane, “which is a very potent greenhouse gas, 80 times more potent than CO² on a period of 20 years”.
“Climate change is the biggest health threat from hydraulic fracturing,” she said. “While there are many other potential short-term health implications of fracking, its contribution to climate change is for me my greatest concern.”