Fracking, Shale Gas
and Health

Fracking and Health Awareness Project

Shale gas and children’s health: Toxins and vulnerable populations


What could shale gas development mean for the health of children in New Brunswick? As the government assures citizens that new regulations will provide all the protection that is necessary, children’s health is one of the many issues that remain unexamined.

When it comes to exposure to hazardous chemicals, children are not just little adults. “Children are more vulnerable to environmental hazards,” states the Pediatric Environmental Health Specialty Unit PEHSU). “They eat, drink and breathe more than adults on a pound for pound basis.”  This means children are proportionally more exposed to toxins in air, water and food.

Children’s immature bodies are less able to metabolize some toxic substances  – so they are more vulnerable when they are exposed. Young children and babies in the womb are especially vulnerable. In these early stages, children go through critical periods of development when even small exposures to toxins can result in serious, lifelong harm.

While no one knows exactly how much risk there is to children’s health from shale gas development, enough is known to be concerned. In Pavillion, Wyoming, the Environmental Protection Agency documented that 10 chemicals used in fracking were present in the town’s aquifer.  In situations where drinking water becomes contaminated, children are especially vulnerable to these exposures.

Water is not the only source of health risk. Hazardous air pollutants are released at each step of shale gas development. High levels of air pollution have been documented in gas producing areas of Texas, Colorado and Wyoming, with many chemicals measured well above safe levels.

Benzene is one of the chemicals commonly found in areas with shale gas development. It is released from flaring gas wells, condensate tanks, and wastewater pits. Benzene is a known carcinogen. Exposure to benzene during pregnancy has been shown to increase rates of childhood leukemia.

In shale gas development, large quantities of diesel fuel combustion products are produced by drill pad machinery and from heavy truck traffic – estimated at 2,400 truck trips per frack per well. Pre-natal exposure to diesel fuel combustion products can result in low birth weight. Low birth weight is associated with multiple health and learning issues throughout life.

Diesel combustion products are also linked to increased asthma attacks.  Asthma is the most common chronic disease of childhood. Children in the Atlantic Provinces already have the highest rates of asthma in Canada.

Another asthma contributor is increased ozone.  High levels of ozone have been recorded in areas with intensive gas drilling. Highly drilled rural areas in Wyoming measured ozone levels higher than the worst days in smoggy Los Angeles.

“It seems highly likely there will be impacts on children with asthma that lead to hospitalizations, lost school days and higher health care costs,” wrote the American Lung Association in a submission to New York’s review of hydraulic fracturing. In fact, the hospital serving six intensively drilled counties in Texas recorded asthma rates three times the state average.

Noise pollution from drilling 24/7 is another potential risk to children’s health and ability to learn. The World Health Organization labels noise pollution “not only an environmental nuisance, but also a threat to public health.” Academic performance has been shown to be negatively affected by noise pollution.

Children don’t work in factories in North America anymore. But if shale gas industrial development is permitted in New Brunswick, thousands of children will be exposed to industrial noise and chemicals released into air, water and soil in their neighborhoods. In Pennsylvania, more than 3,000 gas fracking wells and permitted well sites are located within two miles of 320 day care centers, 67 schools and nine hospitals.

Exposures to shale gas chemicals are involuntary. Parents are not able to control their children’s exposure to these health risks.

An October 2012 health survey of people living close to the gas fields of Pennsylvania found:“Surveyed children averaged 19 health symptoms, includ­ing some that seem atypical in the young, such as severe headaches, joint pain, and forgetfulness. Among all the sur­vey respondents, it was children living within 1500 feet of facilities who had the highest occurrence of frequent nose­bleeds (56%).

Children’s environmental exposures are becoming increasingly recognized as potential contributors to a range of diseases. “We know now that children may have genetic vulnerabilities for such conditions as autism, brain cancers and other chronic diseases, but that environmental insults can trigger the onset or progression,” says pediatric neurologist Dr Maya Shetreat-Klein, assistant clinical professor of Neurology at Albert Einstein College of Medicine.

Health professionals in the US are seeing first hand the health effects of shale gas development. They suggest that governments should slow down shale gas development. “First do no harm,” wrote Dr. Madeline Finkel, in the American Journal of Public Health. “If you have an industry where there are, in a sense, known dangers, don’t go forward until you’ve actually analyzed and assessed what these dangers are.”

A moratorium on fracking pending more health research “would be reasonable,” says Dr. Jerome Paulson, pediatrician and director of the Mid- Atlantic Center for Children’s Health and the Environment.

A complete evaluation of the potential health impacts of shale gas development, including the special risks to children’s health, is critical. Without this, the New Brunswick government cannot determine whether this industry is in the best interests of the province.

November 2012

Photo: Purple Violet Press

For additional information see lengthier article at’s-health-toxins-and-vulnerable-populations

Barb Harris is a writer/researcher with a special interest in environmental toxins and human health. Over the past year, she has focused on the potential health impacts of shale gas and fracking. She is a member of the Environmental Health Association of Nova Scotia (EHANS.) For more information contact [email protected]

Children’s Health, Shale Gas and Fracking handout Nov b & w Formatted as a pdf for a quick and easy handout. Feel free to use or distribute to your networks.

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