After dozens of childhood cancer cases were reported in southwestern Pennsylvania in 2019, state health officials launched a multi-study project to determine whether a boom in oil and gas extraction in the region was to blame. Could This week, results of that work Are in: Epidemiologists at the University of Pittsburgh, who were contracted to conduct the research, found evidence that minors living close to fracking sites are 5 times more likely to develop a rare type of childhood cancer. They also found a significantly increased risk of asthma attacks and low birth weight.
The eight counties that make up southwestern Pennsylvania are one of the most important fossil fuel-producing regions in the country. Most of the state’s natural gas is buried thousands of feet below Earth under sheets of fine-grained rock called shale. These once-inaccessible fuel reserves were opened in the early 2000s with the widespread adoption of fracking, a method of fuel extraction that involves using underground water and other chemicals to break the bedrock and free the oil and gas reserves. Involves injecting large amounts. The number of fracking wells has increased more than tenfold in the past two decades, and Pennsylvania is second only to Texas in its number of wells.
while the previous Research Several chemicals used in fracking have been identified as capable of causing cancer – they include formaldehyde, hexavalent chromium, benzene and ethylene oxide – the science that actually directly links fracking to adverse public health consequences is still coming to the fore. This week’s study helped fill this gap using existing medical records from the Pennsylvania Department of Health.
The authors analyzed cancer incidence data from 2010 to 2019, which included a total of 498 cases of children born and diagnosed in the eight-county study area. Of the four types of cancer analyzed, they found significant evidence that children living within five miles of active oil and gas wells were 5 to 7 times more likely to develop lymphoma. They did not find evidence that the other three childhood cancers – leukemia, brain tumors and bone cancer – were closely linked to oil and gas development.
However, James Fabisiek, author of all three studies released this week, said that doesn’t mean an association with those cancers can be dismissed. A separate state-wide study Yale University last year found an association between fracking and a subtype of leukemia in children ages 2 to 7.
“In any scientific study like this, you always have some degree of uncertainty about a negative result,” Fabisiek told Grist. “If I had more patients, if I had a greater sample size, could I have found a statistically significant difference?”
The researchers wanted to understand how each stage of the fracking process affects the health of nearby residents. Before workers can begin pouring the liquid into the earth, they often have to clear sites, build roads, and dig deep cracks in the ground. The next fracking phase of the process is typically short, lasting only three to five days, while the production phase, when the fuel is actually extracted from the ground, takes much longer – ranging from a few weeks to decades.
The study analyzed the records of more than 46,000 patients ages 5 to 90 over the past two years and found that people with asthma were more likely to have an asthma attack if they lived near a fracking well during production. 5 times more than Researchers have also linked this stage of the frackin’ process to low birth weight. On average, babies born to people who lived near oil wells during the production process were 1 ounce smaller at birth. (The researchers noted that such a difference usually does not pose any significant health risk.)
Fabisiak said he found the asthma study’s findings most troubling, given how widespread the condition is — more than 25 million Americans have asthma.
“I have a son who grew up with asthma, and I know the burden that particular disease takes on one person in the family,” he said.
The study was not able to identify which specific hazards associated with fracking caused the adverse health effects such as those seen in southwestern Pennsylvania, but it builds on research documenting links between fossil fuel development and climate change. asthma And birth defect in other parts of the world. It is well known that flaring, a practice that involves burning unwanted gas, can generate considerable air pollution, and that chemicals used in fracking, if not properly extracted and disposed of, can leak into soil and groundwater. which may pose a risk to the nearby residents. prolonged period. Making a direct link between those risks and poor health outcomes should be the work of future studies, Fabisiek said.