Pennsylvania study shows fracking raises risks for childhood lymphoma and asthma

This story originally appeared on StateImpact Pennsylvania

A team of researchers at the University of Pittsburgh found children living near shale gas activities in Southwest Pennsylvania had a higher risk of developing lymphoma.

But the group found no association between oil and gas activity and other childhood cancers, including Ewing’s sarcoma.

The researchers released the top-line results of their study at a public meeting at Pennsylvania Western University in California, Pa. (formerly California University of Pennsylvania).

The state of Pennsylvania paid for a pair of studies looking into potential health impacts of fracking after pressure from Washington County families of pediatric cancer patients in Southwestern Pennsylvania.

Dozens of children and young adults were diagnosed with Ewing sarcoma and other forms of cancer in a four-county area outside Pittsburgh, where energy companies have drilled more than 4,000 wells since 2008, according to state records. The cases were first reported by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

“For childhood cancer, we found that children living close to active wells or near many wells had a higher risk for developing a cancer called lymphoma,” said James Fabisiak, associate professor of environmental and occupational health at the University of Pittsburgh’s Graduate School of Public Health.

“We did not find any increased risk for other childhood cancers, including the Ewings family of tumors, regarding unconventional natural gas drilling.”

At the meeting, some family members questioned how the researchers could find no explanation for a spate of rare cancers that affected their loved ones in Washington County.

Christine Barton’s son Mitch, then 21, was diagnosed with Ewing Sarcoma in 2018 – one of several young people from the Canon-McMillan school district to come down with the exceedingly rare disease.

“My son Mitch is a Ewing sarcoma survivor, thank God. But so many have not survived this. And I’m going to tell you, I know a lot of people in the community, there are kids right now that are sick in Washington, Pa.,” she said. “There has to be something going on here.”

Others questioned the methods of researchers; for instance, whether they included all of the local cancer patients in their dataset, which included medical records of 185,000 births, 46,000 asthma patients, and 498 childhood cancers from eight southwestern Pennsylvania counties.

But Ned Ketyer of Physicians for Social Responsibility said one of the study’s findings, that asthma cases increased for those near oil and gas activities, was a “bombshell”.

“Asthma is not a mild disease. Asthma is a very serious disease. It’s serious in young children, older children, adults. Very few people outgrow their asthma,” Ketyer said.

  • August 16, 2023
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