Pollution from fracking impacts infant health, study finds


According to a new study by the University of Rochester Medical Center, water pollution caused by shale gas development, known as fracking, can have a negative impact on infant health, indicating serious consequences of water pollution and a need for increased regulations for drinking water.

The study, published in the Journal of Health Economics, was co-authored by Elaine Hill, PhD, an associate professor with the University of Rochester Department of Public Health Sciences, Economics and Obstetrics & Gynecology and Lala Ma, PhD, with the University of Kentucky. The investigation analyzed the geographic expansion of shale gas drilling in Pennsylvania from 2006 to 2015.

Hill and Ma located each of the 19,000 wells established during the study period and linked them to groundwater sources that supply public drinking water. Through birth records and geological service ground water contamination measures, the two researchers identified maternal residences who were served by public drinking water impacted by fracking wells and measured water contamination levels. With this data, Hill and Ma were able to determine infant health outcomes through weight and labor details before, during, and after the wells were drilled.

With each new well drilled within a kilometer of a drinking water source, the study’s results showed an 11 to 13 percent increase in the number of preterm births and low birth weight in infants exposed during gestation. Low birthrates and preterm births can lead to a higher risk of a baby developing problems with their social and emotional behavior as well and their learning abilities, according to the study.

“These findings indicate large social costs of water pollution generated by an emerging industry with little environmental regulation,” said Hill.  “Our research reveals that fracking increases regulated contaminants found in drinking water, but not enough to trigger regulatory violations.  This adds to a growing body of research that supports the re-evaluation of existing drinking water policies and possibly the regulation of the shale gas industry.”