Mothers who live near fracked natural gas wells are said to be more likely to give birth to babies with low birth weight, based on data gathered from more than 1.1 million births that happened in the state of Pennsylvania. This is according to a study conducted by researchers from the University of California, the University of Chicago, and Princeton University.
According to the researchers, between the years 2004 and 2013, babies that were born within half a mile from fracked natural gas wells had a 25 percent higher chance of having low birth weight. They also found significant declines in average birth weight among these babies.
Meanwhile, the researchers said that they found lesser such declines in birth weight -- as well as other measures of health in babies -- in mothers that lived more than half a mile to two miles from fracked natural gas wells. After checking to see if there were any adverse effects on mothers and babies living at even further distances, the researchers found no evidence of any health effects.
Extrapolating from the data presented in the study by the researchers, it is said that about 29,000 babies across the U.S. are born within half a mile of fracking sites every single year. A report on the study notes that the researchers are economists, not specialists in children's health, so they were unable to pinpoint exactly what about living near fracking sites contributed to the recorded declines in birth weight. However, the study does present a clear view of the fact that fracking sites do indeed cause increased health risks for those that live near them.
Currently, fracking is still legal in some states across the country. This is despite the fact that it has known health risks and negative consequences to local communities as well as the environment. Among the myriad air pollutants emitted from fracking sites are sulfur dioxide, a major source of tiny soot particles, certain organic materials that cause damage to the lungs, and other chemicals that have been linked to cancer, nerve damage, and certain birth defects. It is estimated that fracking releases around 9 million tons of air pollutants into the atmosphere every single year.
According to a report on the new study, the researchers decided to focus on low birth weight in particular as a health indicator because it has been shown to be a major factor in the overall well-being of the children as they grow older. Babies with low birth weight are said to be among those who have more problems in school, end up earning less money as adults, and even rely on government assistant programs to get by.
The researchers noted that they were unable to determine whether the low birth weights recorded were due to air or water pollution caused by fracking, as both are known to have their own various negative effects. However, it appeared that air pollution played the bigger role in all recorded instances. With that said, the study doesn't go any further in assessing the full impact of air pollution caused by fracking on entire families and society as a whole. Although it may be an effective way to mine natural gas reserves, its numerous negative effects far outweigh any benefits.
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