Children & Pregnant Individuals
Research has shown shale gas development (SGD) emits a variety of toxic substances such as fine particulate matter 2.5 (PM2.5), volatile organic compounds (VOCs), polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), glycol, and many others. Exposure may occur via inhalation (breathing), ingestion (eating), or skin absorption (touching). This is specifically relevant for pregnant individuals, fetuses, and children because it is already known that they are more sensitive to environmental toxicants.
Additionally, some substances in the emissions and waste of SGD are known or suspected endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs). EDCs can impact how hormones operate in the body. Pregnant individuals and developing fetuses are dependent on receiving the right hormones at the right time to foster healthy growth and development. Chemicals that can disrupt this process can have long-term impacts. For more information on specific studies, check out the Featured Research Reviews and the Health Professional Toolkit: Maternal and Child Health.
How Shale Gas Development Impacts Pregnant Individuals
SGD can pose serious health threats to those who are pregnant or planning to become pregnant. Since 2012, more than 25 peer-reviewed studies have looked specifically at the potential impact of SGD on pregnant individuals and newborns. This research has shown greater health impacts on pregnant individuals living in close proximity to shale gas development (1-3 km or 0.6-1.8 miles) than on those who live farther away.
In a 2014 review, Webb et al. found that chemicals that had been tested for human toxicity and known to be used in SGD were linked with the following health problems related to reproduction and development: birth defects, infertility, miscarriage and stillbirth, impaired fetal growth, low birth weight, preterm birth, and premature or delayed sexual development.
Graphic courtesy of USC Environmental Health Concerns (2021)
How Shale Gas Development Impacts Children
Pregnancy is a vulnerable time for humans. Fetuses are not small adults, and because of their low weight, their relative exposure to toxic substances is higher. Their metabolic pathways are immature, and they are undergoing rapid development, which makes them more susceptible, so impacts could be long-term. For example, it is known that babies born prematurely or of low birth weight have an increased risk for other health issues later in life. In addition, economically speaking, the cost of having a premature or low birth weight baby is four times higher than a full-term baby.
Stress is another important factor that can negatively impact children’s health. It is important to observe behavioral changes in children that may indicate high levels of stress. SGD has many environmental stressors, such as bright lights at night, vibrations, and lack of sleep, that can negatively impact mental health. Physical symptoms such as a stomachache or headache may also indicate stress. If your child has a clean bill of health from his or her health professional, consider that frequent physical complaints can also signal stress. To understand more about this topic, check out the Stress and Mental Health page.
How to help children and teens manage their stress, American Psychological Association
Stress in Children: Signs, Symptoms and Strategies, Kids’ Minds Matter