ELKO COUNTY — Pregnant women may want to move away from neighborhoods located close to fracked gas wells, according to a new Princeton University study that finds a higher rate of low birth-weight babies near the wells.
The researchers compared the locations of parents’ homes to hospital records in Pennsylvania and found a strong correlation.
Study author Janet Currie, an economics professor at Princeton, says that the low birthweights were clustered, and much more likely to be right next to the well sites.
“What is surprising is, we found a fairly large effect for people living very close; but by the time you got to two miles away, we did not detect any effect,” she says.
In Nevada, state records showed five hydraulic-fracking wells as of April 2017 — three in Elko County and one each in Nye and Eureka counties.
Industry reps argue that air pollution from gas wells and compressor stations disperses quickly, and they say they comply with all regulations. Multiple studies have linked low birth-weight to health issues down the road.
Currie says previous research points to culprits such as benzene, a volatile organic compound used in fracking fluid that has been linked to leukemia and blood disorders by the National Cancer Institute.
Beth Weinberger, a public health consultant with the Environmental Health Project, says benzene and soot particles in diesel exhaust are common in the gas fields and have been associated with preterm births in other studies.
“We know much of what’s in the emissions, and in each of the studies, the researchers have found associations between exposure to gas drilling and birth outcomes,” she explains.
The Princeton research suggests keeping drilling away from homes, through zoning or well set-back rules. Weinberger adds that even a portable air filter may help some homes reduce pollution levels.