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What The Frack?

UT researcher re-examines link between childhood cancer and fracking in Texas

Fracking oil pump
Flower Mound residents have a lot of questions after new analysis of a childhood cancer cluster near fracking sites. guardian.co.uk

New analysis of air quality reports and other health monitors related to hydraulic fracturing in the Barnett Shale points to a connection between natural gas drilling and childhood cancer rates. University of Texas at Austin researcher Rachel Rawlins recently published her findings in the Virginia Environmental Law Journal.

In a statement announcing the results of her study, UT Austin said the new research reveals current regulations "do not effectively address cumulative emissions in urban areas, the risk of malfunctions in equipment, encroaching land uses, or the potential interactive effects of mixtures of chemicals."

 "Rates of childhood leukemia and lymphoma in Flower Mound are significantly higher than expected," said UT's Rachel Rawlins. "There is only a 1 in 20 chance that the difference is random."

Rawlins re-examined the Texas Department of State Health Service’s cancer cluster analysis of childhood leukemia in Flower Mound, Texas. She believes the state was too quick to dismiss the correlation between toxic emissions from gas drilling and elevated cancer rates.

"The reanalysis found, with 95 percent certainty, that rates of childhood leukemia and childhood lymphoma in Flower Mound are significantly higher than expected; there is only a 1 in 20 chance that the difference is random," Rawlins said.

Rawlins is urging more testing and monitoring to track the health effects of fracking. "Texas’ reactive and ultimately inadequate effort to respond to citizen concerns on the Barnett Shale reflects a continuing need for across-the-board improvement in monitoring, health-based assessment and public communication," she said.

Anti-drilling activist Jim Schermbeck described Rawlins' research as a call for a "radically new approach" to regulating the risks of fracking.

"Among other things, it's a comprehensive rebuttal of every claim of safety and well-being ever issued by the industry or state authorities about the health of residents living in the Barnett Shale, of which the Flower Mound case is only one example," Schermbeck wrote on his website.

In response to Rawlins' research, the town of Flower Mound released a March 31 statement saying it was working to understand the findings and recommendations.

The town will be coordinating with our county, state and national representatives to make sure that they are aware of the new findings. The town will be treating this issue as a critical priority.

Thanks to stringent regulations, fracking is effectively banned in the City of Dallas. The issue remains controversial in other North Texas cities as well. Denton residents are working to get an initiative to ban fracking on the ballot in 2014. Residents in Tarrant and Parker County have also questioned the health impact of natural gas drilling.

In 2011, Texas Gov. Rick Perry signed a bill requiring the public disclosure of chemicals used to extract oil and gas during hydraulic fracturing.

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