Is Fracking Leading to Lower Birthweight Babies in Areas in Close Proximity to the Wells?

pittlogoHydraulic fracking has always been a controversial method of extracting natural gas trapped in shale deposits. Critics charge that the process pollutes both the water and the air. Increased truck traffic in areas where the drilling occurs can also raise air pollution levels.

The debate has become more intense as fracking has become widespread in recent years. In 2007, there were 44 gas wells drilled into the Marcellus Shale in Pennsylvania. From 2007 to 2010, more than 2,800 additional wells were drilled.

Now a new study by researchers at the University of Pittsburgh has found that pregnant women who live close to these wells are more likely to have low birthweight babies than other women. They examined more than 15,000 births in three Pennsylvania counties between 2007 and 2010. They found that mothers who lived in close proximity to a large number of wells were 34 percent more likely to have low birthweight babies than mothers who were in a group that were in areas further away from fracking operations.

Bruce Pitt, chair of the department of environmental and occupational health at the Graduate School of Public Health at the University of Pittsburgh and co-author of the study, said that “developing fetuses are particularly sensitive to the effects of environmental pollutants. We know that fine particulate air pollution, exposure to heavy metals and benzene, and maternal stress all are associated with lower birth weight.” Dr. Pitt points out that the research does not prove that fracking is causing the lower birthweight babies but says that his results show a need for further study.

The study, “Perinatal Outcomes and Unconventional Natural Gas Operations in Southwest Pennsylvania,” was published on the website of the journal PLOS One. It may be accessed here.

Filed Under: Research/Study


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