Babies born near fracking sites face low birth weight, new study finds

Think Progress
Mark Hand

"Babies born to mothers living within two-thirds of a mile from a fracking well site see a 25 percent increase in the probability of significantly low birth weight, a condition linked to other health problems later in life, according to a new study. The research adds to a growing body of scientific work that links the controversial extraction process with adverse effects on the environment and people.

Based on an analysis of more than 1.1 million births in Pennsylvania between 2004 and 2013, the researchers found that babies born to mothers who lived within 1 kilometer, or 0.64 miles, of a fracking well weighed, on average, 1.38 ounces less than babies born to women whose pregnancies occurred 3 kilometers or more from a fracking site.

Low birth weight is a risk factor for numerous negative outcomes, including infant mortality, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, asthma, lower test scores, lower schooling attainment, lower earnings, and higher rates of social welfare program participation, the researchers noted.

The Princeton University, University of Chicago, and University of California-Los Angeles researchers found little evidence of health effects at distances beyond 3 kilometers, suggesting that health impacts of fracking are highly local. The study, “Hydraulic Fracturing and Infant Health: New Evidence from Pennsylvania,” was published Wednesday in the journal Science Advances.

“Given the growing evidence that pollution affects babies in utero, it should not be surprising that fracking, which is a heavy industrial activity, has negative effects on infants,” co-author Janet Currie, the Henry Putnam Professor of Economics and Public Affairs at Princeton University, said in a statement.

Energy In Depth, an industry advocacy group started by the Independent Petroleum Association of America in 2009, said it views the study as flawed. Researchers found birth weight anomalies that they link to fracking but then admit the sampled population would be expected to have similar effects even without fracking, the industry group said in a blog post published Wednesday.

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