University of Pittsburgh study suggests links between fracking and asthma, lymphoma

Researchers from the Pennsylvania college reported last month that children who lived closer to the state’s heavily-drilled natural gas wells were more likely to develop a rare cancer, and nearly all residents in the same area had an increased likelihood of asthma reactions.

While the study wasn’t designed to assess whether the fracking directly caused these health problems, or how, data combed from health records suggests a correlation.

The cancer study found that children living within 1 mile of a natural gas well were five to seven times more likely to develop lymphoma (a type of lymphatic system cancer) compared to those living 5 miles or farther – a rate of 60 to 84 lymphoma cases per million children within a mile of the wells, while those farther away only see a rate of 12 per million.

For the asthma study, researchers found that those who live near wells are 1.5 to four times more likely to have asthma attacks than those who do not. While severe attacks occurred more frequently during the development stages of fracking sites, the report stated that the risk was greater during the production stages, which can last years.

The report also shared similar findings to previous studies regarding preterm births and birth weights near the wells: mixed conclusions hinting that proximity to natural gas production may reduce birth weights by under an ounce.

The study was first commissioned in 2019 by then-Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf, following pressure from families of childhood cancer patients living near the natural gas wells. While many of these patients also suffer from Ewing sarcoma (a rare bone cancer), leukemia and brain cancer, the study found no correlation between gas drilling and those particular cancers.

The report follows similar studies around the country which carry similar data on increased health concerns around fracking sites – and a wave of legislation in recent years which have attempted to tighten regulations on fracking and waste disposal.

The administration of current Gov. Josh Shapiro stated that it is working to improve public health in response to the results of these studies.

(Photo courtesy of Ruhrfisch, via Wikimedia Commons | CC BY-SA 4.0)


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