That's why researchers from Princeton University, the University of Chicago and other institutions across the country recently conducted a study, which was published in Science Advances, to determine the human health hazards associated with fracking.
To do so, they analyzed 1.1 million births in Pennsylvania between 2004 and 2013, examining expectant mothers who lived between 1 and 3 kilometers from fracking areas, before and after the wells were active, and those who lived 10 miles or more away. Analysts then compared the birth weights of siblings born at different distances to wells.
They found that pregnant women living within two-thirds of a mile to a fracturing well were more likely to give birth to a smaller infant than women who lived at least 10 miles away during pregnancy.
In fact, babies born to mothers who lived closest to or, about 1 kiometer within, a well were 25 percent more likely to weigh less than 5.5 pounds, which is classified as a low birth weight. Low birth weights are linked to infant mortality, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, asthma, lower test scores, lower schooling attainment and lower lifetime earnings.
"Given the growing evidence that pollution affects babies in utero, it should not be surprising that fracking, which is a heavy industrial activity, has negative effects on infants," Janet M. Currie, co-author of the study, said in a statement.
While scientists are unsure whether the pollution is coming from air, water, on-site chemicals or increased traffic, they said the results prove “hydraulic fracturing does have an impact on our health.”
They are now looking forward to investigating the source of the pollution and challenging lawmakers to consider the dangers to health.
“As local and state policymakers decide whether to allow hydraulic fracturing in their communities,” co-author of the study Michael Greenstone said, “it is crucial that they carefully examine the costs and benefits, including the potential impacts from pollution.”