The rapid rise in fracking across the US has lead to an increase in environmental pollution. Studies now show the gas extraction method can cause infertility, miscarriage and birth defects for residents living near shale oil and gas operations.
Natural gas has been hailed as the cleaner alternative to fossil fuels, but the process involved in extracting unconventional oil and gas (UOG) has faced a lot of controversy in recent years due to its damaging impact on human and animal life. Hydraulic fracturing, commonly known as fracking, is a process of fracturing rock with the use of pressurized liquid consisting of water, chemicals and sand. The technique is designed to extract natural oil and gas from the fractured shale rock, allowing drilling firms access to hard-to-reach natural reserves of gas and oil.
Advocators believe the method is a more economical way of reaching oil and gas. However since the increase of fracking across the US and Canada, high concentrations of the chemicals used in UOG operations have been contaminating local water supplies and increasing air pollution in areas close to UOG operation sites. Furthermore, researchers are now placing the blame for infant mortality within these communities, at fracking’s door.
A recent study from Pennsylvania has shown that the controversial gas extraction system “is strongly related to increased mortality in young babies”. Using official data from the US Centre for Disease Control, the study looks at infant deaths from 0-28 days before and after the drilling of fracking wells. The study suggests radioactive water pollution is to blame for the infant deaths.
Developing foetus particularly sensitive to air and water pollution
It’s not just newborns that are affected by the damaging impact fracking has on the environment, the chemicals and heavy metals exposed during shale extraction are some of the known contributors that pose a threat to human developing foetuses and unborn babies. As researchers already demonstrated with their study in 2014, fracking has been linked to miscarriage, birth defects, low birth weight, infertility and reduced semen quality. Published in Reviews on Environmental Health. the researchers from the Center for Environmental Health (CEH), the University of Missouri and the Institute for Health and the Environment provide evidence that exposure to chemicals associated with fracking during infancy, child and adulthood can result in serious reproductive health and development effects in humans.
“People really near unconventional oil and gas and fracking sites and those who work in the fracking industry have the right to know the chemicals that are being used that may pose health threats, especially to vulnerable populations like women and children,” contributing author Ellen Webb from the Center for Environmental Health, New York told US News and World Report.
The 2014 paper states that chemical exposures can potentially cause permanent damage to a growing embryo in the vulnerable periods during prenatal and postnatal development.
Children and infants most at risk
Children’s respiratory systems and their ability to breathe are particularly vulnerable to the airborne pollutants associated with fracking. The study shows that unborn babies living within a 10-mile radius of fracking wells are more at risk of birth defects such as heart, lung and immune system complications.
“We conclude that exposure to ozone, [particulate matter], silica dust, benzene, and formaldehyde is linked to adverse respiratory health effects, particularly in infants and children,” the authors wrote in the study.
The researchers stressed that as with oil and coal, the risks of natural gas extraction need to be researched in depth to increase the knowledge of potential health consequences for humans and wildlife.
“Given the lack of study and understanding of all the chemicals that are being used, we can’t know the extent of the risks,” Webb told US News and World Report.
Over 15 million US citizens currently live within one mile of an active oil or gas well.
Read the original article here:
Ellen Webb, Sheila Bushkin-Bedient, Amanda Cheng, Christopher D. Kassotis, Victoria Balise, Susan C. Nagel: Developmental and reproductive effects of chemicals associated with unconventional oil and natural gas operations, 05.12.2014