The Forgotten Victims of Fracking 

Image courtesy of David R. Tribble.

As the consequences of unconventional oil and gas development (UOGD) devastate our environment, children are paying the ultimate price. This rapidly expanding form of nonrenewable energy, also known as hydraulic “fracking,” involves injecting pressurized water into the ground to create fissures and release natural gas. Researchers have found that, throughout this complex process, chemical contaminants associated with leukemia are present in both the injected water and subsequent wastewater, as well as UOGD-related air emissions.

In order to further study this phenomenon, a team of researchers at Yale, including Nicole Deziel and Cassandra Clark, performed a case-control study of children diagnosed with leukemia between the ages of two to seven in Pennsylvania from 2009 to 2017. They began their research by compiling cases from the Pennsylvania Cancer Registry and linking them to birth records. To assess exposure to UOGD air and water contaminants, the researchers considered two exposure windows: the period from three months before conception to one year before a cancer diagnosis, known as the “primary window,” and the period from three months before conception to birth known as the “perinatal window.”

The team found that children living near UOGD had up to two or three times the likelihood of developing leukemia. Their findings also indicated that children could be impacted by UOGD-related contaminants in the womb. “Since we published our research, we have received several invitations to speak to community groups and non-governmental environmental organizations,” Deziel said. “That has been rewarding because it shows our work has value and relevance to public health policy.”

Their research adds to a growing body of work on UOGD exposure used to influence policy. “My goal is to continue to conduct policy-relevant research that highlights impacts to underrepresented and vulnerable communities,” Clark said. While no policy changes have been made in response to their findings, one thing is for certain: these researchers know that their work is far from done. In the future, they hope to conduct a similar study in a larger population and continue examining water as a route of exposure to UOGD.