By: AP – Children who lived closer to natural gas wells in heavily drilled Pennsylvania were more likely to develop a relatively rare form of cancer, and nearby residents of all ages had an increased chance of severe asthma reactions, researchers said in reports released Tuesday evening.
The taxpayer-funded research by the University of Pittsburgh adds to a body of evidence suggesting links between the gas industry and certain health problems. The researchers found what they called significant associations between gas industry activity and two ailments: asthma and a relatively rare type of cancer in children called lymphoma.
The researchers were unable to say whether the drilling caused health problems because the studies weren’t designed to do that. Instead, the researchers combed health records to try to determine possible associations based on how close people lived to natural gas wells.
Energy companies use hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, to capture natural gas locked in shale rock. The technique, used in conjunction with horizontal drilling, involves pumping vast amounts of water along with sand and chemicals deep underground to break up the gas-bearing shale.
In the cancer study, researchers found that children who lived within 1 mile (1.6 kilometers) of a well had five to seven times the chance of developing lymphoma compared with children who lived 5 miles (8 kilometers) or farther from a well. That equates to 60 to 84 lymphoma cases per million children living near wells, versus 12 per million among kids living farther away.
For asthma, the researchers concluded that people with the breathing condition who lived near wells were more likely to have severe reactions while gas was being extracted compared with people who don’t live near wells. However, researchers said they found no consistent association for severe reactions during periods when crews were building, drilling, and fracking the well.