As B.C. continues to ramp up fracking for natural gas, we are seeing an increasing number of studies describing human health harms to those living close to this industry.
Fracking for gas takes place in the northeastern part of B.C. and in northern Alberta, home to rural and Indigenous communities. The extraction process involves drilling holes vertically and then horizontally for several kilometres, followed by injecting a mix of water, chemicals and sand under high pressure to release the gas.
This industry can impact local air and water quality, which may increase exposure to potentially harmful contaminants among people living close to fracking operations.
Since 2015, a growing number of studies from the U.S. and Canada report harmful respiratory and cardiovascular issues, childhood leukemia, poor health outcomes related to mothers and newborns, and more.
More recently over the last two years, we have also seen a few firsts.
Alberta has been the highest Canadian producer of fracked gas for over three decades and yet, until last year, there was no research into possible health effects on people exposed to fracking in that province.
Now the first study coming out of Alberta has been published. Researchers used the postal codes of pregnant mothers to identify how close they lived to active fracking operations and linked these to their pregnancy-related outcomes. They found women living closer to fracking had higher rates of preterm birth, smaller babies, birth defects, and infant mortality, adding to a considerable body of research from other jurisdictions with similar results.
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Another important first was a study linking pregnant mothers living close to fracking to drinking water contamination with fracking-related chemicals as well as to inferior birth outcomes when compared to pregnant mothers who lived further away.
And what might cause these results?
Researchers have shown that many of the chemicals and other substances found in frack fluid cause inflammation, chromosomal damage, and disrupt the normal behaviour of hormones in human cells and animal models.
Some of these chemicals have also been found in higher levels in the air, water, and urine of pregnant women living close to fracking. Exposure to one or more of these chemicals is believed to be one explanation for results observed in a growing number of studies.
We also have the first studies looking at mortality and fracking. Both found higher mortality among those living closer to fracking operations compared to those living further away.
Also, for the first time, a study actually measured the lung function of those living close to oil and gas drilling operations compared to those living further away. Authors reported worse lung function and more wheezing in the group living closer to wells. This study provided even more evidence on the harms to respiratory health related to fracking exposure.
Earlier studies found asthmatics living closer to fracking activity experienced higher rates of asthma “flares” requiring a prescription for oral steroids or a visit to the hospital to manage their symptoms.
Another study published last year reported increased rates of leukemia among children living close to fracking operations in Pennsylvania, adding to a previous study from Colorado with similar results.
The last scientific review of studies on the human health effects of fracking was commissioned by the B.C. government in 2014. That report concluded the health risks associated with oil and gas development in the northeast were “generally low.” However, at that time, there was almost no research. Since then, approximately 60 health studies on fracking have been published.
A 2018 scientific review of fracking related to water quality done by the province explicitly excluded human health impacts from the review’s terms of reference.
It is time for governments to consider the emerging science on fracking and human health in their energy policy decision-making.
A failure to do so simply confirms the assertion by many rural and Indigenous communities living close to fracking that they have been made a “sacrifice zone.”
We need to talk about fracking and health.
Dr. Margaret McGregor is a health policy researcher and clinical associate professor with the Department of Family Practice at the University of British Columbia. Dr. Élyse Caron-Beaudoin is an assistant professor at the University of Toronto in the departments of health and society and physical and environmental sciences. Dr. Amira Aker is a postdoctoral fellow in environmental epidemiology at the Centre de recherche du CHU de Québec-Université Laval.
Yeah. And since we really
Yeah. And since we really should be stopping with the natural gas anyway because it, you know, heats the globe . . .
You have to be living in an
You have to be living in an urban bubble not to at least consider that carpet bombing deep earth with sand, water and unknown chemicals (proprietory), might have deleterious consequences. Much of the water used in the process comes up sufficiently contaminated not to be classified as potable any longer and that should be a clue,
There are terrible ethical consequences of becoming dependent on energy sources that are as unconventional as fracked gas..........or in situa mining for bitumen. We tried for years to pretend bitumen was oil. That's why the companies stopped calling the tar sands the tar sands, years ago. We live in a petrostate in Alberta.........and petrostates prefer a name change to any recognition that the sweet light crude is mostly gone.......and what remains is the hard to extract junk fossil fuels.
Dug up on debt quite often, they are poisonous to air, earth, water and children.....we ignore all that and rebrand it 'ethical oil'. A simple name change trumps the science of medical research......and I'm sure the evidence this article presents will be buried for a few more years....so we can 'grow the economy' by increasing LNG............an energy intensive substance that should be called Liquified Fracked Gas...LFG....
If language served any purpose other than cover up in Fossil Fool territories like B.C. and Alberta.
Thank you for this and it's
Thank you for this and it's good to hear that the body of research regarding negative health impacts of fracking is growing. I remember when the BC Liberals first started allowing fracking here. It was such a travesty to people living in NE BC. And right now more infrastructure is being built so we can ship the LNG offshore. Another factor not mentioned is that the process of fracking pollutes HUGE amounts of water, and this water is put in settlement ponds. They have to put nets over the ponds so that migrator birds don't land in them and die.
How much is government and society willing to sacrifice for the profit motive of neoliberalism?