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Cost of Drilling: Low Birth-Weight Babies Linked to Fracking

Mothers living near fracking operations could have a higher propensity for low birth-weight babies. (direct relief/flickr)
Mothers living near fracking operations could have a higher propensity for low birth-weight babies. (direct relief/flickr)
January 3, 2018

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Pregnant women living next to fracked gas wells are more likely to have a low birth-weight baby, according to a new study from Princeton University.

Researchers compared standard birth-weight records collected by Pennsylvania hospitals with the locations of the parents' homes.

Princeton economics professor and report co-author Janet Currie says the research shows a strong correlation — that the low birth weights were highly localized, much more likely to occur right next to the well sites.

"What is surprising is, we found a fairly large effect for people living very close,” Currie points out. “But by the time you got to two miles away, we did not detect any effect."

The industry argues that air pollution from gas wells and equipment such as compressor stations disperses quickly after it's released. It also says the issue is well understood and regulated.

Low birth weight has long been considered an important indicator of later health problems.

Fracking is legal in Tennessee.

Currie says that based on previous research, researchers think the problem may be due to volatile organic compounds such as benzene, or small, soot-like particles such as those found in diesel exhaust.

Beth Weinberger, public health consultant with the Environmental Health Project, says these kinds of dangerous air pollutants are well documented as being common in the gas fields.

And she notes that previous research has associated them with preterm births and similar issues.

"We know much of what's in the emissions,” Weinberger says. “And in each of the studies, the researchers have found associations between exposure to gas drilling and birth outcomes."

The Princeton research suggests that drilling should be kept away from homes, through zoning or well setback rules.

Weinberger adds that even a portable air filter may help some homes reduce pollution levels.

Stephanie Carson, Public News Service - TN