As oil and gas production has increased in recent years, wells and rigs have begun to crop up closer and closer to homes. But the drilling process can release toxic chemicals, posing a health hazard for those who live nearby: A study published last week in the journal PLOS One found a connection between a certain type of childhood cancer and proximity to oil and gas production.
Researchers at the Colorado School of Public Health at CU Anschutz analyzed rural towns in 57 Colorado counties and found that children and young adults who were diagnosed with acute lymphocytic leukemia were 43 times more likely to live within 10 miles of a working oil and gas well than children with other types of cancer.
Oil and gas production increased steadily over the past 15 years. By 2012, there were more oil rigs operating in the United States lands and waters than in the rest of the world combined, according to American Progress, an independent research and advocacy organization. In Colorado especially, oil and gas production is dense, with hundreds of wells within a mile of residential areas.
“Over 378,000 Coloradans and millions of Americans currently live within a mile of at least one oil and gas well, and petroleum development continues to expand into residential areas,” Lisa McKenzie, assistant research professor at the Colorado School of Public Health and the study’s lead investigator, said in a news release. “These findings from our registry-based case-control study indicate that young Coloradans diagnosed with one type of childhood leukemia are more likely to live in the densest areas of oil and gas sites.”
McKenzie cautioned that more research would need to be done to explain the results of the study and that future investigations should focus on specific pollutants and production levels. The researchers also noted that pollutants from drilling were likely not the only thing responsible for cancer rates and attention should be paid to genetics and environmental factors together.
Oil rigs are shown near Culver City, California, Apr. 25, 2008. Photo: Getty Images
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