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Environment & Energy

Study Links Proximity To Fracking Sites With Low Birth Weight

Pregnant women who live close to fracking sites are more likely to have babies with lower birth weights, according to a study conducted by the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health.

Researchers used public records to cross-reference the proximity of gas wells to health information for 15,451 newborns in Washington, Westmoreland and Butler counties born between 2007 and 2010.

They found mothers who lived closest to gas wells were 34 percent more likely to have babies who were "small for gestational age" than mothers who resided further away. "Small for gestational age" refers to babies whose birth weight ranks them below the smallest 10 percent when compared to their peers.

Bruce Pitt, the study's co-author, said the research is preliminary, but the link shouldn't be ignored.

“These things are associative by nature only," he said. "Prospective studies will be a little bit stronger and more convincing."

Developing fetuses are sensitive to the effects of environmental pollutants, such as fine particulate air pollution, exposure to heavy metals and benzene. Fracking can cause air pollution and uses and emits chemicals such as benzene.

Pitt said the study, which was funded by the Heinz Endowments, only suggests a correlation. Future research could provide better information, he said.

Unconventional gas development has boomed in the past decade amidst concerns  in Southwestern Pennsylvania about how the relatively new practice would affect the health of the land and people in the area.

In 2007, fracking occurred at a few dozen wells in Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale region. Now, there are nearly 3,000.