Emerging Impacts of Fracking on Pregnancies

Caroline Petrow-Cohen

Fracking, the development of hydraulic fracturing, has been known to have many negative effects on the environment. Because of these effects, it has been banned in some countries, states, and other communities. New evidence suggests that there may be another harmful effect of fracking: on pregnancies. In Pennsylvania, where fracking is not banned, pregnancies and births were analyzed from differing distances from fracking sites to determine the health effects of fracking on pregnancies exposed to its effects.

Understanding Fracking

Although fracking is clearly harmful to the environment, it exists as it reduces energy prices, decreases some forms of air pollution, and changes the traditional form of energy production in many other ways. Additionally, the government struggles to ban fracking because, as of now, there is no systematic evaluation of the health effects fracking causes.

The way fracking affects health is through water and air pollution. Chemicals involved in fracking can be found in both “fracturing fluid” and air emissions from near fractured gas wells.

Why Focus on Infant Health?

There are two reasons why focusing on fracking’s effects on infant health in particular is important. First, more and more evidence is suggesting that the fetus is vulnerable to pollutants while in utero. Second, because a fetus is in utero for 9 months, a time period is given to examine the health effects, while most other health effects that result from fracking develop over time and are harder to pinpoint.

The Study

1.1 million births were analyzed in Pennsylvania between 2004-2013 with different distances from fracking sites. The differences in distance were studied in 1 km intervals. These births included comparisons between siblings who were and weren’t exposed to fracking. These comparisons allowed for distinctions between effects caused by fracking from effects caused by the mother.

Results

Health effects began to occur in pregnancies within 3 km of a fracking well site, meaning the effects are local. A 25% increase in probability of being affected occurs within 1 km of a site. The effects may be a lower birth weight and lower infant health.

Why Is This Relevant?

29 thousand, out of 4 million, annual births in the US are within 1 km of an active fracking site. Effects such as low birth weight increase the risk of infant mortality, ADHD, asthma, lower performance in school, lower earnings professionally, and a greater rate of participating in a social welfare program. With fracking becoming an increasingly critical issue it is important to understand the effects on not only current inhabitants, but future generations as well.

Praesana Danner ‘19

References

http://advances.sciencemag.org/content/3/12/e1603021.full

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