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Study Discusses Drinking Water, Fracking and Infant Health

For the first-ever time, a new study recorded the pollution of public water supplies caused by shale gas development. This is generally called fracking and it has a negative impact on infant health.

Study Discusses Drinking Water, Fracking and Infant Heath.

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Such outcomes require closer environmental regulation of the industry, as levels of chemicals discovered in drinking water frequently come under regulatory thresholds.

In this study, we provide evidence that public drinking water quality has been compromised by shale gas development. Our findings indicate that drilling near an infant’s public water source yields poorer birth outcomes and more fracking-related contaminants in public drinking water.

Elaine Hill PhD, Departments of Public Health Sciences, Economics and Obstetrics & Gynecology, University of Rochester

The new study, appearing in the Journal of Health Economics has been co-authored by Hill and Lala Ma Ph.D., along with the University of Kentucky. Hill’s earlier research was the first to connect shale gas development to drinking water quality and has examined the connection between shale gas development and reproductive health.

The study also analyzed the considerable impact on later educational attainment, greater risk of childhood asthma exacerbation, opioid deaths and higher risk of heart attacks.

Ma’s research shines light on a significant perspective to the policy discussion regarding fracking which has frequently highlighted the immediate job creation and economic benefits. This has been done without a complete understanding of the long-term environmental and health impacts on communities in which drilling takes place.

This new study is a complex examination of the geographic expansion of shale gas drilling that was taking place in Pennsylvania from 2006 to 2015. This was the time during which over 19,000 wells were fixed in the state.

Hill and Ma graphed the location of every new well in connection to groundwater sources that provide public drinking water and connected this information to maternal residences served by those water systems on birth records and the US Geological Service groundwater contamination efforts.

This data enabled the two to identify infant health outcomes — particularly preterm birth and low birth weight — before, during and after drilling activity. Preterm birth and low birth weight are linked with a range of negative outcomes, such as the greater risk of developing social-emotional and behavioral issues and learning hardships.

Other studies have illustrated high levels of chemicals linked with fracking in surface water. But such levels frequently tend to be below federal guidelines, are not tracked closely, and even if detected, do not increase to levels that activate remediation.

The new study denotes that fracking-related chemicals — such as hazardous volatile organic compounds — are finding their way into groundwater that feeds municipal water systems, and that the ability for contamination is highest during the pre-production period when a new well has been established.

With just 29 out of more than 1,100 shale gas contaminants controlled in drinking water, the results denote that the true contamination level is greater. The study also identifies that every new well drilled within 1 km of a public drinking water source was linked with an 11 to 13% increase in the incidence of preterm births and low birth weight in infants exposed at the time of gestation.

These findings indicate large social costs of water pollution generated by an emerging industry with little environmental regulation. Our research reveals that fracking increases regulated contaminants found in drinking water, but not enough to trigger regulatory violations.

Elaine Hill PhD, Departments of Public Health Sciences, Economics and Obstetrics & Gynecology, University of Rochester

Hill added, “This adds to a growing body of research that supports the re-evaluation of existing drinking water policies and possibly the regulation of the shale gas industry.”

The research was funded by the University of Rochester Medical Center Department of Environmental Sciences and the National Institutes of Health (DP5OD021338).

Journal Reference:

Hill, E. L & Ma, L (2022) Drinking water, fracking, and infant health. Journal of Health Economics.


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