Is Fracking Linked to Increased Risk of Developing Leukemia and Lymphoma?

Carcinogens involved in the controversial practice of hydraulic fracturing (also known as “fracking”) have the potential to contaminate air and water in nearby communities, which could theoretically increase the risk of developing leukemia or lymphoma, according to research conducted by scientists from the Yale School of Public Health. The findings, which were published in Science of the Total Environment, identified 55 unique compounds with carcinogenic potential.

Fracking is common in the United States, occurring in 30 states; millions of people live within one mile of a fracking site. “Because children are a particularly vulnerable population, research efforts should first be directed toward investigating whether exposure to hydraulic fracturing is associated with an increased risk,” said the study’s lead author Nicole Deziel, PhD, MHS, assistant professor at the Yale School of Public Health.

Dr. Deziel and authors evaluated the carcinogenicity of 1,177 water pollutants and 143 air pollutants known to be associated with fracking. Though more than 80 percent lacked sufficient data on their cancer-causing potential, of the 111 potential water contaminants and 29 potential air pollutants, 49 water and 20 air pollutants were known, probable, or possible human carcinogens.

Twenty chemicals have the potential to increase the risk for leukemia or lymphoma specifically, including benzene, 1,3-butadiene, cadmium, diesel exhaust, and several polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. According to the authors, this analysis creates a priority list of carcinogens to target for future exposure and health studies.

The authors noted that the presence of these chemicals alone does not confirm exposure or risk of exposure to carcinogens, and future studies are needed to evaluate these compounds’ risk of cancer in general – and childhood leukemia in particular.

Sources: Elliott EG, Trinh P, Ma X, et al. Unconventional oil and gas development and risk of childhood leukemia: Assessing the evidence. Sci Total Environ. 2016 October 24. [Epub ahead of print]; Yale School of Public Health, October 24, 2016.