The Effects of Fracking on Newborn Babies

Fracking_Site_in_Warren_Center,_PA_07A recent study by researchers at the Colorado School of Public Health, and published in Environmental Health Perspectives, examined the effects fracking on babies born near wells. Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, is the process of blasting chemicals, sand and water deep underground to extract fuel from rock. Although government officials and industry advocates caution that further study is needed before drawing conclusions, preliminary data showed that babies born in the vicinity of oil and gas wells may be at risk for potential health issues.

Lisa McKenzie, the lead researcher for the fracking study, stated, “It’s not really well understood how the environment interacts with genetics to produce these birth defects. We really need to do more study to see what the association is, if any, with natural gas development.”

Zintro expert Nirmalendu Bandyopadhyay is an independent engineering consultant. He says, “Fracking and underground blasting to produce hydrocarbon, contaminates the ground water which may develop bridge to the surface water in rivers, lakes and natural water bodies through cracks and fissures in the soil. Use of the contaminated water with dissolved gases may lead to deformation in a baby in the fetus. Besides, there is release of dissolved toxic gas in the air from the contaminated surface water bodies. Mothers residing near well sites have to inhale the toxic gases which get into their blood stream and may lead to deformation of the unborn child due to lack of adequate oxygen in the mothers’ blood as a result of toxicity.”

Dr. Pam Carlisle is the Executive Director and researcher for She discusses the issue below:

The hydraulic fracking process involves the use of fracturing fluid products—water combined with a cocktail of toxic chemicals—to extract gas and oil from shale rock deep beneath the earth’s surface. A number of toxic chemicals commonly used in the fracking process have been linked in scientific research to chronic toxicity, teratogenicity, developmental neurotoxicity and carcinogenicity. The potential for public health problems due to exposure to these toxic chemicals is not just hypothetical; studies have detected toxic chemicals present in the ground water and drinking water wells in areas where fuel extraction via hydraulic fracking has occurred. Investigations of water contamination in fracking areas have uncovered more than 1,000 cases across seven states where toxic chemicals have leached into surface and ground water. Further, a House of Representatives report on the chemicals used in the fracking process revealed that U.S. hydraulic fracking companies inject more than 10 million gallons of fluid that contain hundreds of chemicals considered to be either possible human carcinogens or known human carcinogens.

Two recent studies examining the potential health hazards associated with proximity to residential fracking (one study suggests a link with proximity to fracking wells in Colorado and an increased risk for congenital heart defects in newborns, and the other suggests a link with fracking proximity in Pennsylvania and low birth weight and low Apgar scores of newborns) are among the latest additions to a growing body of scientific literature linking toxic chemicals commonly used in the fracking process with serious adverse health repercussions.

While the full lists of chemicals used in fracking products are considered proprietary and therefore are unknown, some of the most commonly used chemicals that we do know about include: Methanol (vapors can trigger headaches, fatigue and eye damage and high doses can be fatal); Ethylene Glycol (toxic to humans; derivatives and metabolites are teratogenic; ingestion can lead to poisoning and adverse effects of the central nervous system, metabolic acidosis, and kidney damage/failure); BTEX compounds (short-term exposure to these compounds can trigger headaches, dizziness, difficulty breathing, weakness, nausea and vomiting), additionally, long-term exposure and perinatal/neonatal exposure can be serious: Benzene (a known carcinogen), Toluene (among the chemicals linked with developmental neurotoxicity and neurodevelopmental disabilities including loss of IQ points, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, dyslexia and autism among other types of cognitive damage, and central nervous system damage in adults), and Ethylbenzene and Xylene (both of which have also been shown to have harmful effects on the central nervous system); Naphthalene (inhalation can cause respiratory problems, nausea, and vomiting; additionally, Naphthalene is among the toxic chemicals that has been detected in human umbilical cord blood; this common PCB contaminant can lead to kidney and liver damage); Lead (among the chemicals linked with developmental neurotoxicity and neurodevelopmental disabilities including loss of IQ points, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, dyslexia and autism and other cognitive damage in children; also linked with high blood pressure and nerve disorders in adults); Diesel Fuel (contains toxic compounds such as BTEX and can cause skin disorders; long-term exposure can lead to severe skin damage and cancer); and then there are Sulfuric Acid, Crystalline Silica, and Formaldehyde (all are potentially harmful if inhaled and can lead to lung damage; all are carcinogenic).

Weighing the potential health risks of fracking brings to mind what Henry David Thoreau once said, “The price of anything is the amount of life you exchange for it.”