A newly released study found that multiple pollutants in the air and water near hydraulic-fracturing wells are linked to brain problems in children. More than 1,000 studies have looked at possible health hazards from fracking, but this is the first to focus on neurological health of children living near fracked wells. "Researchers focused on five types of pollution commonly found near the sites—heavy metals, particulate matter, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, xylene and endocrine-disrupting compounds—and scrutinized existing health studies of the compounds' impacts to kids' brains," Brian Bienkowski reports for Environmental Health News.
Early exposure to those five types of pollutants is associated with a host of problems, from learning and developmental disorders to neurological birth defects. The study's lead author, Ellen Webb of the Center for Environmental Health, told Bienkowski that the research on children's health near oil and gas sites is "slowly emerging" but "It's only reasonable to conclude that young children with frequent exposure to these pollutants would be at high risk for neurological diseases." Webb recommends an increase in the required distance (at least a mile, she suggests) between fracking wells and places where children live or go frequently, such as schools, parks or hospitals. She also recommends "more research on low level, chronic exposure, mandatory testing of industrial chemicals used on site, and increased transparency of the chemicals used in drilling," Bienkowski reports.
Seth Whitehead, a spokesperson for the Independent Petroleum Association of America, counters that there is no hard evidence that pollutants associated with fracking do harm children. "This is not unlike saying bleach — which can be found in most folks' laundry rooms — can make you sick if you drink it and that more research is needed to understand the extent to which people get sick from drinking bleach from their laundry rooms," he said in an email to Bienkowski.
Any public-health issues caused by fracking are likely to disproportionately impact rural America, since most of the nation's fracking occurs in rural areas. Research has shown that fracking can contaminate drinking water up to one kilometer away from the well pad.