WEDNESAY, Aug. 16, 2023 (HealthDay News) -- Research into a possible link between childhood health problems and natural gas wells in western Pennsylvania is wrapping up with some answers.
Children who lived near these wells were more likely to develop rare lymphoma, the research found.
In addition, residents of all ages near the wells had increased risk of severe asthma reactions, the Associated Press reported.
The AP reported that researchers said their look at preterm births and birth weights among families living near gas wells yielded mixed results similar to those in other studies. There is a possibility that gas production might reduce birth weights by less than an ounce on average.
Raina Rippel, former director of the Southwest Pennsylvania Environmental Health Project, called the findings the "tip of the toxic iceberg."
"We are only just beginning to understand what is out there,” she told the AP, warning that there is “a lot more cancer waiting in the wings.”
The researchers found that children who lived within 1 mile of a well had five to seven times the risk for lymphoma compared to children who lived at least 5 miles from a well.
That equates to 60 to 84 children per million with lymphoma for kids living near wells, compared to 12 per million for those living farther away, the AP reported.
The association with severe asthma was found for times when crews were extracting gas, but not for when they were building, drilling or fracking wells, the AP reported.
The president of Physicians for Social Responsibility described the asthma findings as a "bombshell."
“The biggest question is: Why is anybody surprised about that?” said Dr. Edward Ketyer, who served on a study advisory board.
Ketyer, a retired pediatrician, told the AP he had expected findings to be consistent with other studies that show the closer one lives to fracking activity, the higher their risk for "being sick with a variety of illnesses."
The taxpayer-funded, $2.5 million, four-year study was done by the University of Pittsburgh. It was commissioned by former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf, following a push by families of pediatric cancer patients.
The findings were released Aug. 15 at a public meeting at Pennsylvania Western University. Researchers could not say whether the drilling caused the lymphoma and asthma in children, because they only found an association.
Although dozens of children and young adults in a heavily drilled area outside Pittsburgh have an extremely rare form of bone cancer called Ewing sarcoma, researchers did not find a link between brain and bone cancers and gas drilling.
Current Gov. Josh Shapiro said his administration is working to improve public health in response to the studies.
The gas industry has said fracking is safe, while numerous states have strengthened laws around fracking and waste disposal.
The industry has made the United States a worldwide oil and gas superpower thanks to high-volume hydraulic fracturing and drilling miles deep into the ground, the AP reported.
Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center has more on pediatric lymphomas.
SOURCE: Associated Press