The energy industry has long insisted that hydraulic fracking -- the practice of fracturing rock to extract gas and oil deep beneath the earth's surface -- is safe for people who live nearby. New research suggests this is not true for some of the most vulnerable humans: newborn infants.
In a study presented today at the annual meeting of the American Economic Association in Philadelphia, the researchers -- Janet Currie of Princeton University, Katherine Meckel of Columbia University, and John Deutch and Michael Greenstone of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology -- looked at Pennsylvania birth records from 2004 to 2011 to assess the health of infants born within a 2.5-kilometer radius of natural-gas fracking sites. They found that proximity to fracking increased the likelihood of low birth weight by more than half, from about 5.6 percent to more than 9 percent. The chances of a low Apgar score, a summary measure of the health of newborn children, roughly doubled, to more than 5 percent.