A small pilot study found chemicals linked to cancer and organ damage in the bodies of children living near fracking wells at levels up to 91 times higher than the average American, and substantially higher than levels seen in the average adult cigarette smoker.
Two of the children involved in EHN’s study participate in a 2019 youth climate change protest in downtown Pittsburgh. Photo credit: Connor Mulvaney for Environmental Health News.
It’s been 12 years since fracking reshaped the American energy landscape and much of the Pennsylvania countryside.
And despite years of damning studies and shocking headlines about the industry’s impact — primarily on the state’s poor and rural families — people that live amongst wellpads remain in the dark about what this proximity is doing to their health and the health of their families. A two-year investigation by Environmental Health News (EHN) set out to close some of those gaps by measuring chemical exposures in residents’ air, water, and bodies.
In the summer of 2019, we collected air, water, and urine samples from five nonsmoking southwestern Pennsylvania households. All of the households included at least one child. Three households were in Washington County within two miles of numerous fracking wells, pipelines, and compressor stations. Two households were in Westmoreland County, at least five miles away from the nearest active fracking well.
Over a 9-week period we collected a total of 59 urine samples, 39 air samples, and 13 water samples. Scientists at the University of Missouri analyzed the samples using the best available technology to look for 40 of the chemicals most commonly found in emissions from fracking sites (based on other air and water monitoring studies).
Heavy toll on families
This was a small pilot study, so we aren’t able to draw any sweeping scientific conclusions from our findings. Instead, we hope our findings will provide a snapshot of environmental exposures in southwestern Pennsylvania families and help pave the way for additional research.
We found chemicals like benzene and butylcyclohexane in drinking water and air samples, and breakdown products for chemicals like ethylbenzene, styrene, and toluene in the bodies of children living near fracking wells at levels up to 91 times as high as the average American and substantially higher than levels seen in the average adult cigarette smoker.