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Study: Fracking Linked to Low Birth-weight Babies

Children at a school in Enfield, the town where Illinois regulators approved a fracking permit this year. A new study links fracking to low birth-weight infants. (il.gov)
Children at a school in Enfield, the town where Illinois regulators approved a fracking permit this year. A new study links fracking to low birth-weight infants. (il.gov)
December 29, 2017

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. – Pregnant women living next to fracked gas wells are more likely to have a low birth-weight baby - that's the finding in a new study from Princeton University.

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

Study author Janet Currie, an economics professor at Princeton, says they found a strong correlation - that the low birth weights were highly localized, much more likely to be found right next to the well sites.

"What is surprising is, we found a fairly large effect for people living very close; but by the time you got to two miles away, we did not detect any effect," she says.

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.

Illinois issued its first fracking permit this year to Kansas-based Woolsey to drill in Enfield, but the company later said it wouldn't use it because of what it termed the state's "burdensome and costly" regulations.

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

Beth Weinberger, a public health consultant with the Environmental Health Project, says benzene and soot particles in diesel exhaust are common in the gas fields and have been associated with preterm births in other studies.

"We know much of what's in the emissions, and in each of the studies, the researchers have found associations between exposure to gas drilling and birth outcomes," she explains.

The Princeton research suggests keeping drilling away from homes, through zoning or well set-back rules. Weinberger adds that even a portable air filter may help some homes reduce pollution levels.

Veronica Carter, Public News Service - IL