According to a recent study in Pennsylvania, young children who lived near oil and gas fracking sites were more likely to develop some form of leukemia.
Fracking uses liquid chemicals pumped deep underground to extract fossil fuels — and this has been a concern for some environmentalists and public health advocates for years.
The study is just the latest to look at the potential health risks associated with the controversial method of extracting oil and gas, also known as “unconventional oil and gas development” (UOG), common in many parts of the United States. is.
“Unconventional oil and gas (UOG) development can use and release chemicals associated with cancer,” study author and Yale University epidemiologist Nicole Deziel told her university.
“So the potential for children living near UOG to be exposed to these chemical carcinogens is a major public health concern.”
The new study looked at more than 2,400 children in Pennsylvania between the ages of two and seven — 405 diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia, a common form of childhood blood cancer, and 2,080 without cancer.
Children who had lived within two kilometers (1.2 miles) of a fracking site at some point in their lives or up to a year before birth were about twice as likely to develop the cancer compared to others.
When the researchers looked only at the children exposed in the year before their birth, the odds were nearly three times higher.
After adjusting for race and socioeconomic status, those odds dropped a bit, with about a 75 percent greater chance for children exposed at any time and slightly more than twice the odds for children exposed before birth.
The results were published on Wednesday in the magazine Environmental health perspectives.
The researchers did not test whether fracking chemicals can cause leukemia, only if children living near fracking sites are more likely to get the disease. But the liquid mixture used for fracking may contain chemicals that have been linked to cancer, the study authors note.
Other research has shown links between fracking and health risks, including in children. For example, another study in Pennsylvania in 2017 found more cases of babies born with lower birth weights in areas closer to fracking sites.
Environmentalists and some communities near fracking operations have long been concerned about the potential dangers of water pollution from injecting fracking chemicals into the ground. A 2016 US Environmental Protection Agency report confirmed that fracking operations “may affect drinking water,” including by contaminating groundwater with fracking chemicals.
Fracking can also cause air pollution from flaring — or burning some of the excess gas taken from the ground — as well as exhaust from heavy machinery or releasing chemicals into the air, the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences says.
In addition to pollution, fracking can cause earthquakes when the fluid pumped underground interacts with fault lines.
In response to these concerns, some local governments have banned fracking. For example, the UK banned fracking in 2019. New York State has also banned fracking.