If your child’s home or school is near unconventional oil and gas development (UOGD or “fracking”), you should understand the potential health risks associated with the industry. This section includes an overview of the issue, as well as helpful printable resources for you and your child’s health care providers.
Children may be exposed to UOGD-associated toxic pollutants through contaminated air or water from venting, leaks, and accidents. Emissions can travel long distances, but in general the closer you are to an emission source, the higher your level of exposure. While there is currently no consensus on what constitutes an adequate setback distance from a school, EHP and others believe that children are at higher risk for health effects from a well site or compressor station that is within a mile of their school.
CHILDREN AT SPECIAL RISK
Children are at a higher risk than adults for adverse health effects from the toxic chemicals associated with UOGD (“fracking) for many reasons:
- Children have higher respiratory rates than adults, and breathe in more pollution per pound of body weight than adults.
- Children’s still-developing brains are at risk from certain toxic agents known to interfere with developmental processes.
- Children’s immature immune systems are less able to detoxify and excrete pollutants compared to adults.
- Children spend more time outdoors on grass, playing fields, and play equipment where pollutants may be present.
- Children’s hand-to-mouth contact is more frequent, exposing them to pollutants through ingestion.
HOW POLLUTANTS CAN AFFECT CHILDREN
While not focusing directly on exposures experienced by children, researchers have documented health effects from chemicals used in UOGD (“fracking”) in many systems of the body, including ears, nose and throat, skin, lungs, and nervous system. Some of the chemicals used, and emissions produced, by UOGD may have potential long-term effects such as heart disease and cancer, but many health effects reported at this point are likely to be short-term or resolve when away from the emissions source. Some common complaints associated with UOGD exposure include:
- Trouble with sleep
- Sinus problems
- Sore throat
- Skin rash
- Itchy eyes
- Shortness of breath
HOW POLLUTANTS CAN AFFECT PREGNANT WOMEN
Unconventional oil and gas development (UOGD or “fracking”) can pose serious health threats for women who are pregnant or planning to become pregnant. In a 2014 review, researchers found that chemicals used in UOGD are linked with the following health problems:
- Birth defects
- Miscarriage and stillbirth
- Impaired fetal growth
- Low birth weight
- Preterm birth
- Premature or delayed sexual development
Another study found that the number of nearby wells and distance from wells can impact health outcomes. Babies born to mothers living near gas wells were more likely to have neural tube defects like spina bifida than those living with no wells within a 10-mile radius. The study also found that the risk of congenital heart defects was 38 percent higher for children living near wells.
WHAT YOU CAN DO
- Let your health care provider know if you have concerns about your environmental conditions, or contact EHP for help. Our Family Nurse Practitioner serves the needs of both adults and children whose health may be affected by UOGD (“fracking”). She is available by appointment for both home and office visits and makes referrals to appropriate health specialists on an as needed basis. Please see our Health Issues section for more information.
- Keep a health diary for your child. Include dates, symptoms, and any environmental conditions (e.g., water changes, flares, odors) that you notice. You can share this information with your child’s doctor.
- Monitor your air and water (especially if you use well water) and keep records of the results. EHP provides limited air and water monitoring to qualified residents.
- Find an alternative water source for drinking, cooking, and bathing if you have serious concerns about the quality of your well water.
- Know what types of UOGD facilities are located near your home and school.
- Encourage your school to cancel or reduce outdoor activities (or cancel school altogether) if dangerous pollution episodes occur.
- Encourage your school to minimize airflow through effective sealing and properly operated and maintained HVAC systems to ensure pollution control.
- Urge your school to use healthy cleaning products and limit the amount of toxic chemicals used inside and outside.
- Educate yourself about emergency preparedness plans for your school and community.
- Make sure that your pediatrician and school nurse are aware of the health risks associated with UOGD (see Factsheets below).
- Facts for your Pediatrician
- Facts for School Nurses
- Outdoor Air, Indoor Air, and School Exposure
- Risks to School Children