Pregnant Women Who Live Near Fracking Sites More Likely To Have Underweight Babies

There might finally be some evidence toward fracking being directly linked to health hazards.

Pregnant women who reside near fracking sites are 25 percent more likely to give birth to children that are underweight, or less than what's considered as a healthy weight for a newborn.

Exactly why this phenomenon occurs remains a mystery, but the researchers behind the study speculate that it roots from environmental pollution, which may be negatively affecting pregnancies.

What Is Fracking?

For the uninitiated, fracking is the process of drilling down into the Earth before a high-pressure water mixture is directed at the rock to release the gas inside. It's a technique designed to extract gas and oil from shale rock, and it's become quite controversial among environmentalists, who say that fracking may cause carcinogenic chemicals to escape and contaminate groundwater around the fracking site. Yet, proponents of fracking argue that bad practice is what's causing pollution, not the act of fracking itself.

Fracking Causes Underweight Babies

The researchers analyzed over 1 million births in Pennsylvania spanning 2004 through 2013, before and after fracking began. Pregnant women who lived nearest to a fracking site had the largest impacts, as detailed in the paper published in Science Advances on Wednesday, Dec. 13, as "Hydraulic Fracturing and Infant Health: New Evidence from Pennsylvania."

Infants born within a kilometer (0.64 miles) of a fracking site were 25 percent more likely have low birth weights than those born 3 kilometers (1.9 miles) away from a site, the study found — less than 5.5 pounds, or around 2.5 kilograms.

Low birth weight is a cause for concern because it has many negative outcomes, including infant mortality, deficit hyperactivity disorder, asthma, lower test scores, lower schooling attainment, and many others, the researchers noted.

The Princeton University, University of Chicago, and University of California, Los Angeles researchers found little evidence of health effects for babies born beyond distances of 3 kilometers, which might suggest that fracking effects are highly local.

Other Effects Of Fracking

Previous studies have shown other harmful effects of fracking, with some suggesting that the practice causes air pollution that are hazardous to babies, and that residing nearby fracking sites is linked to premature births. The latest study in question adds to the growing evidence that fracking potentially triggers some serious human health hazards.

In 2014, a study showed that pregnant women who live near fracking sites give birth to children who may have a higher risk of developing heart defects.

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