A new study has found that babies born closer to hydraulic fracturing had lower birth weights than those born farther away. The researchers think this has to do with pollution.
Published in the journal Sciences Advances Wednesday, researchers analyzed all Pennsylvania birth records from 2004 to 2013, ending up with about 270,000 children whose mothers lived within roughly nine miles of an active well. The closer they lived, the higher the chance of a negative health outcome: A child born within two-thirds of a mile from a well was 25 percent more likely to be born underweight than one at least nine miles away.
“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,” said co-author Janet M. Currie, a professor of economics and public affairs at Princeton University, in a press release.
A baby with a low birth weight weighs less than 5.5 pounds. The child can be born healthy, but they’ve also been shown to experience an increased likelihood of diabetes and even lower earnings later in life. Science has already shown that pollution can lead to low birth weights among newborns, but this just drills in the dangers of living near these industrial sites.
According to the article, the health impacts are highly local. Once a family lives more than a mile or so away from a well site, impacts decrease. Low birth weights are most concentrated within two-thirds of a mile of a fracking site, but the study highlights that births to black mothers were, too. Fewer black families saw a new family member enter the home past the 2/3-mile mark. This was because more wells eventually popped up closer to black mothers’ homes as companies began to target more urban areas like Pittsburgh.