Researchers with Cornell University have found that infant health is negatively impacted by natural gas drilling, or fracking. Their study found that proximity to fracking operations increased the likelihood of low birth weight by more than half and increased the chances of a low Apgar score – a method used to assess the overall health of babies immediately after birth, according to Bloomberg.
The report was presented at the annual meeting of the American Economic Association in Philadelphia and builds on the findings of a previous study, Unconventional Natural Gas Development and Infant Health: Evidence from Pennsylvania, with similar findings.
The new study uses Pennsylvania birth records from 2004 to 2011 to determine the health of infants born within 2.5 kilometers of fracking sites. It surveys a constant group of mothers who had children both before and after fracking occurred and addresses other concerns related to the findings of the previous study. The report has not yet been peer-reviewed or published online.
Pennsylvania is one of the most heavily-fracked states in the US due to the abundance of the Marcellus Shale. Drilling in the state began with only 20 wells at the end of 2007, which increased to 4,272 wells by the end of 2010, according to the Pennsylvania DEP.
Natural gas development, or fracking, involves the use of hundreds of chemicals, many of which are known carcinogens, harmful to human health, or listed as hazardous air pollutants. A toxic cocktail of chemicals and water is pumped deep into the earth in order to break the shale, releasing gas in the process. The produced water or wastewater of the process is toxic and often contains radioactive materials and heavy metals.
In addition to the many harmful products used during the process, pollution from trucks used to create the wells and transport materials is also a factor. The New York Department of Environmental Conservation estimates that anywhere from 1,500 to 2,000 truck trips are required for the completion of a well. All these factors contribute to pollution in the environment and the air.
Although the energy industry and its proponents still claim that fracking is safe, more and more evidence continues to emerge about the dangerous side effects of the controversial process. In particular, fracking has been linked to the contamination of water tables and the pollution of residents’ water supplies, leading to illness in people and animals.
In the case of the current study on infant health, water contamination does not appear to be responsible for the negative health effects, according to Mark Whitehouse. Researchers found that results were similar for mothers who had access to public water systems and those who relied on private wells. Air pollution associated with fracking could potentially be related to the negative health effects seen in newborns.
Although more research will have to be conducted on the subject, the findings of the report are alarming. Fracking’s negative effect on the health of newborns is one of several highly disconcerting effects of a process that grows increasingly controversial every day.