New study digs into potential link between natural gas production, childhood cancer

CALIFORNIA BOROUGH, Pa. — In California Borough, Washington County, University of Pittsburgh researchers shared their findings Tuesday night after digging into a potential link between natural gas production and long-term health impacts.

“The findings presented tonight help advance our understanding of the potential health effects and impacts from fracking operations so that additional actions can be taken to improve the health and safety of residents,” said Dr. Sharon Watkins, with the Pennsylvania Department of Health.

A $2.5 million, years-long study, funded by the Pennsylvania Department of Health, looked at nearly 500 pediatric cancer cases across eight counties in southwestern Pennsylvania.

It found children living within one mile of an active well were five to seven times more likely to develop lymphoma.

“We did not find any increased risk for other childhood cancers, including the Ewing’s family of tumors,” said Dr. Jim Fabisiak, with Pitt’s School of Public Health.

The study, which was prompted by a Channel 11 report on six young men and women in the Cannonsburg area with Ewing sarcoma, did not find a connection to that, or any other type of cancer.

Janice Blanock, who lost her son Luke to Ewing, is not convinced.

“I knew, personally, three of the boys that were diagnosed with Ewing’s sarcoma in our little town, so, no, not necessarily, I don’t believe it,” Blanock said.

The study also found that infants born to pregnant women living near wells during the production phase were about one ounce smaller at birth.

People with asthma living close to wells in the production phase were also four to five times more likely to have an asthma attack.

Now, the community is calling on the state to further its research and provide more resources to those who are impacted.

“I believe the momentum is growing in the community because people are scared and rightfully so,” Blanock said.

The Department of Health says it is committed to further cancer research.

It issued the following statement:

“The Shapiro Administration is committed to protecting Pennsylvanians’ health and safety, and we are already working to develop concrete plans to address the potential health risks identified in these studies and ensure every concern is heard,” said Acting Secretary of Health Dr. Debra Bogen. “These studies help advance our understanding of the potential health impacts from hydraulic fracturing operations, and we are taking action to improve the health and safety of residents.”

“For nearly two decades, DEP has worked tirelessly to understand and provide oversight of fracking activities across Pennsylvania. Whether it’s research, impact analysis, or regulatory action, we have worked to protect the public with regards to the oil and gas industry,” said Secretary of Environmental Protection Rich Negrin. “These studies further strengthen our ongoing resolve to ensure that public health is prioritized and that we remain ahead of potential issues. Our mission will always center around the safeguarding of public health and protecting Pennsylvania’s natural resources.”

To read the full study from the Pitt research team, click here: https://paenv.pitt.edu

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