Ah, the fracturing (fracking) debate. Truly, it never ends. But now that a new study suggests mothers who live near fracking sites are more likely to give birth to underweight babies, we really can’t let it go.
According to the new study, published in Science Advances, women who live within 3 kilometers (1.9 miles) of a fracking well are more likely to give birth to underweight babies. Mothers who live within a kilometer (0.6 miles) have the highest risk of giving birth to an underweight infant. As a result of this recent study, it is known that approximately 29,000 births occur each year to mothers who live within 1 kilometer of an active fracking site. As IFLScience points out, being underweight is a clear sign of poor health, which is why this finding is concerning.
First, what is fracking? As mentioned above, the process of fracturing is a controversial one. To get to oil and gas, water, sand and undisclosed chemicals are used to “break through” rock. While the process is cost-effective, thanks to advances in technology, it has been proven to be detrimental to the environment, wildlife and — to an extent — people’s health. As a result, debates now rage on whether or not fracking should be allowed.
For the study in question, Professor Janet Currie of Princeton University looked at birth records of approximately 1.1 million babies born in Pennsylvania between 2004 and 2013. She also studied the distance between their mothers’ residences and fracking sites. Previous studies on the topic relied heavily on county-level data. However, Currie located the mothers’ exact addresses.Furthermore, Currie also took into account the weight of siblings whose parents lived in the she location before and fracking began (in 2008). This greatly increased the study’s reliability.
It turns out, mothers who lived closest to fracking sites were 25 percent more likely to give birth to underweight babies after fracking began. This was most evident in mothers who lived within 1-3 kilometers of fracturing sites. Currie is unsure which factors, which result from fracking, are to blame. However, leaking gas, fumes from diesel generators, water pollution, air pollution, and some other unknown factor are suspected to play a role.
This is a monumental finding, as science has shown that underweight infants are more likely to die as infants, as well as do badly in school. Underweight infants are also more likely to suffer from asthma — if they survive. As IFLScience reports, a low birth weight also tends to be a sign of broader problems which might occur later in life.
It is now known that fracking triggers medium-sized earthquakes. It has also been concluded that some of the chemicals used to fracture rocks are carcinogenic. Coupled with Currie’s latest finding, it seems clear discussions need to be had on the allowance of fracking at all.
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