Radiation Levels Near Fracking Sites Could Cause Lung Cancer

Those who live closer to fracking wells might have increased risk of lung cancer.
Derya Ozdemir

The drilling method known as fracking has always been a controversial topic with those in favor of it clashing with environmentalists, and now, a new study by Harvard researchers seems to have added to the controversy.

Those who live close to U.S. hydraulic fracturing drilling sites are exposed to radiation levels significantly higher than background levels.

This exposure to radioactive airborne particles could present a potential health risk to nearby residents.


We know that fracking produces radioactive waste due to briny water coming up to the surface and bringing uranium and radium from below; however, the literature on the potential effects of such occurrence is, as of now, limited.

320,000 radiation monitor readings from 2011 to 2017 studied

By gathering over 320,000 of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's radiation monitor readings from 2011 to 2017, the analysis was made possible and pointed towards one thing: Communities between 12 to 31 miles (20 to 50 kilometers) downwind of operational fracking sites experienced the worst radioactive pollution.

Being closer to the site means greater levels of radioactivity, and the readings were much higher in areas with higher concentrations of drill sites.

To give numbers, the radiation levels in the areas 12 miles (20 km) downwind of 100 fracking wells were 7% higher than the normal background levels.

Health risks such as lung cancer

The study’s lead author, Petros Koutrakis, told Reuters, "The increases are not extremely dangerous, but could raise certain health risks to people living nearby."

If inhaled on a regular basis, such levels could result in health outcomes such as lung cancer.

The biggest increases in radiation levels, per the study, were near drill sites in places like Pennsylvania and Ohio, and lower readings were recorded in Texas and New Mexico. The increased difference was connected to naturally occurring radioactive material beneath the surface.

It is unclear if the radiation was being released during the drilling process, or from nearby wastewater storages. Koutrakis stated further study needs to be conducted to say anything definitive, adding, "Our hope is that once we understand the source more clearly, there will be engineering methods to control this."

The study was published in Nature Communications.

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