According to a new scientific study conducted in fracking-heavy Pennsylvania, children living near fracking sites at birth are two to three times more likely to be diagnosed with leukemia during early childhood than those who did not live near such facilities.
The study explored the connection between the development of cancer and proximity to hydraulic fracturing sites (aka “fracking sites”). Despite the fact that hundreds of chemicals — some with known or suspected cancer links — have been used in the water injection process that occurs during fracking, data on the association between fracking and childhood cancer remains limited. The present study set out to redress the shortage of scientific data on the possible connection between fracking chemicals and childhood cancer.
The scientists conducted a registry-based survey — an observational study that comes from patient registries — of 405 Pennsylvania children aged 2-7, who were diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia between 2009 and 2017. The survey also included 2,080 control subjects matched on birth year.
The researchers probed the link between in-utero exposure and childhood leukemia diagnosis in two different exposure windows: a so-called primary window of three months preconception to one year prior to diagnosis and a “perinatal window” of preconception to birth.
The data revealed that children with at least one fracking well within 1.24 miles of their birth residence* during the primary window had 1.98 times the odds of developing acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) in comparison to those with no such wells.
Meanwhile, children with at least one fracking well within 2 kilometers* of their birth residence during the perinatal window were 2.8 times more likely to develop acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) than their peers who had no wells nearby.
The results demonstrated that exposure to fracking sites may be an important risk factor for acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL), particularly for children exposed in utero.
*“Setback distances” — the required minimum distances between private residences and fracking wells–are under debate across the U.S., with some communities calling for these measures to be extended to more than 1,000 feet or as far as 3,281 feet. In Pennsylvania, where the study occurred, the allowable setback distance is 500 feet. The study found that fracking operations located 1.24 miles or more from residences are associated with an increased risk of acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL).
Journal reference: Cassandra J. Clark, Nicholaus P. Johnson, Mario Soriano Jr., & Joshua L. Warren, et al. Unconventional Oil and Gas Development Exposure and Risk of Childhood Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia: A Case–Control Study in Pennsylvania, 2009–2017, Environmental Health Perspectives, Vol. 130, No. 8, 17 August 2022, CID: 087001. Overview | Study | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1289/EHP11092