Fracking Chemicals in Public Drinking Water Harming Babies: Study

New research has documented pollution of public water supplies caused by shale gas development–fracking–and its negative impact on infant health.

“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, Ph.D.*, associate professor, University of Rochester Departments of Public Health Sciences, Economics and Obstetrics & Gynecology

Study overview

“This new study is a complex examination of the geographic expansion of shale gas drilling in Pennsylvania from 2006 to 2015, during which more than 19,000 wells were established in the state. Scientists mapped the location of each new well in relation to groundwater sources that supply public drinking water, and linked this information maternal residences served by those water systems on birth records, and U.S. Geological Service groundwater contamination measures. This data set allowed researhers to pinpoint infant health outcomes — specifically preterm birth and low birth weight — before, during, and after drilling activity. Preterm birth and low birth weight are associated with a range of negative outcomes, including higher risk for developing behavioral and social-emotional problems, and learning difficulties.”

Results overview

“The new study indicates that fracking-related chemicals — including dangerous volatile organic compounds — are making their way into groundwater that feeds municipal water systems, and that the potential for contamination is greatest during the pre-production period when a new well is established. With only 29 out of more than 1,100 shale gas contaminants regulated in drinking water, the results suggest that the true contamination level is higher. The study specifically finds that every new well drilled within one kilometer of a public drinking water source was associated with an 11-13 percent increase in the incidence of preterm births and low birth weight in infants exposed during gestation.

*Hill’s previous research was the first to link shale gas development to drinking water quality and has examined the association between shale gas development and reproductive health, and the subsequent impact on later educational attainment, higher risk of childhood asthma exacerbation, higher risk of heart attacks, and opioid deaths.

Journal Reference:  Elaine L. Hill, Lala Ma. Drinking water, fracking, and infant health. Journal of Health Economics, 2022; 82: 102595 DOI: 10.1016/j.jhealeco.2022.102595