It's been 12 years since fracking reshaped the American energy landscape and much of the Pennsylvania countryside.
Heavy toll on families<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="be4f5d14108af9fbe01396e4223fcb9e"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/3LlkJ1_TDw8?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>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.</p> <p>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. </p> <p>The chemicals we found in the air and water—and inside of people's bodies—are linked to a wide range of harmful health impacts, from skin and respiratory irritation to organ damage and increased cancer risk.</p>But these stories are about more than a list of hard-to-pronounce chemicals. They're about a single father on disability who fears these exposures are causing his son's illness but can't afford to move; a family that <em>did</em> move to escape a school surrounded by well pads, but found themselves living next to a new set of wells and still being exposed; and quiet rural lifestyles once defined by idyllic farms, rolling hills, and fresh air now overwhelmed by heavy truck traffic, heavy industry, and communities at odds over whether to protest that loss or try and cash in by leasing their mineral rights.
Far-reaching impacts<img lazy-loadable="true" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNTY2NTUzMC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYyNTQ4NDkzMn0.NLSEUV10Uc9wSfwrKILyFqNlL2biqXEPfZDzwiyvywI/img.jpg?width=980" id="a6740" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="8735471f2eb0bb716cea2ad172ca98c3" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="children health fracking" data-width="2000" data-height="1331" />
Children from two families involved in EHN's study participate in a 2019 youth climate change protest in downtown Pittsburgh. (Credit: Connor Mulvaney for Environmental Health News)<p>In the U.S., fracking has become a flashpoint in national debates about climate change and America's energy future. In Pennsylvania, <a href="https://www.conservationpa.org/news/marcellusmoneyorg-report-reveals-millions-donations-state-elected-officials-fracking-industry" target="_blank">study</a> after <a href="https://www.inquirer.com/philly/news/politics/natural-gas-cash-lobbying-20171001.html" target="_blank">study</a> after <a href="https://www.globalwitness.org/en/blog/pennsylvania-lawmakers-pro-fracking-bill-6-times-more-oil-and-gas-money/" target="_blank">study</a> has found that state lawmakers who support pro-fracking legislation have received vast amounts of money from the industry, while <a href="https://www.pghcitypaper.com/pittsburgh/new-poll-shows-majority-of-pennsylvanians-oppose-fracking/Content?oid=17800496" target="_blank">polls show</a> that a majority of Pennsylvania residents oppose fracking. Meanwhile, financial analysts fret about the industry's massive debt overhang and <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/31/business/energy-environment/pennsylvania-shale-gas-fracking.html" target="_blank">uncertain future</a>, especially post-COVID-19.</p><p>While financial analysts, policymakers, and massive corporations squabble over the finer points of the fracking debate, families living amidst the wells day in and day out live in <a href="https://theconversation.com/when-fracking-moves-into-the-neighborhood-mental-health-risks-rise-146528" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">constant fear</a> about what the industry might cost them—if they had another child, would they need to worry about <a href="https://sciencediscoveries.degruyter.com/toxic-chemicals-used-in-fracking-shown-to-cause-miscarriage-birth-defects-and-infant-mortality/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">birth defects</a>? Are these exposures increasing their kids' <a href="https://www.wsj.com/articles/after-string-of-rare-cancer-cases-pennsylvania-investigates-potential-link-to-fracking-11576837802" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">cancer risk</a>? Would it be safer to move to a place far away from all of this, even if it would also mean being far from their extended families, friends, and communities? And even if they could move, how far would they have to go to feel safe? </p><p>EHN's analysis also found unexpected exposures even in families that live further away from fracking wells in Westmoreland County, proving that in southwestern Pennsylvania, we really are all sharing the same airshed—and that exposure impacts from the oil and gas industry's emissions likely extend far beyond just the people living right next door to well pads.</p><p>Environmental Health News is an award-winning nonpartisan organization dedicated to driving science into public discussion and policy. Read the 4-part series below, and listen to an interview with reporter Kristina Marusic about the science and investigation.</p><p><em>Follow the fallout from this investigation on Twitter at the hashtag: #FracturedUSA</em></p>