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  • Author: Ellen Webb x
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Research on air pollutant emissions associated with unconventional oil and gas (UOG) development has grown significantly in recent years. Empirical investigations have focused on the identification and measurement of oil and gas air pollutants [e.g. volatile organic compounds (VOCs), particulate matter (PM), methane] and the influence of UOG on local and regional ambient air quality (e.g. tropospheric ozone). While more studies to better characterize spatial and temporal trends in exposure among children and newborns near UOG sites are needed, existing research suggests that exposure to air pollutants emitted during lifecycle operations can potentially lead to adverse respiratory outcomes in this population. Children are known to be at a greater risk from exposure to air pollutants, which can impair lung function and neurodevelopment, or exacerbate existing conditions, such as asthma, because the respiratory system is particularly vulnerable during development in-utero, the postnatal period, and early childhood. In this article, we review the literature relevant to respiratory risks of UOG on infants and children. Existing epidemiology studies document the impact of air pollutant exposure on children in other contexts and suggest impacts near UOG. Research is sparse on long-term health risks associated with frequent acute exposures – especially in children – hence our interpretation of these findings may be conservative. Many data gaps remain, but existing data support precautionary measures to protect the health of infants and children.


Heavy metals (arsenic and manganese), particulate matter (PM), benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, xylenes (BTEX), polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) have been linked to significant neurodevelopmental health problems in infants, children and young adults. These substances are widely used in, or become byproducts of unconventional oil and natural gas (UOG) development and operations. Every stage of the UOG lifecycle, from well construction to extraction, operations, transportation and distribution can lead to air and water contamination. Residents near UOG operations can suffer from increased exposure to elevated concentrations of air and water pollutants. Here we focus on five air and water pollutants that have been associated with potentially permanent learning and neuropsychological deficits, neurodevelopmental disorders and neurological birth defects. Given the profound sensitivity of the developing brain and central nervous system, it is reasonable to conclude that young children who experience frequent exposure to these pollutants are at particularly high risk for chronic neurological diseases. More research is needed to understand the extent of these concerns in the context of UOG, but since UOG development has expanded rapidly in recent years, the need for public health prevention techniques, well-designed studies and stronger state and national regulatory standards is becoming increasingly apparent.


Unconventional oil and gas (UOG) operations have the potential to increase air and water pollution in communities located near UOG operations. Every stage of UOG operation from well construction to extraction, operations, transportation, and distribution can lead to air and water contamination. Hundreds of chemicals are associated with the process of unconventional oil and natural gas production. In this work, we review the scientific literature providing evidence that adult and early life exposure to chemicals associated with UOG operations can result in adverse reproductive health and developmental effects in humans. Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) [including benzene, toluene, ethyl benzene, and xylene (BTEX) and formaldehyde] and heavy metals (including arsenic, cadmium and lead) are just a few of the known contributors to reduced air and water quality that pose a threat to human developmental and reproductive health. The developing fetus is particularly sensitive to environmental factors, which include air and water pollution. Research shows that there are critical windows of vulnerability during prenatal and early postnatal development, during which chemical exposures can cause potentially permanent damage to the growing embryo and fetus. Many of the air and water pollutants found near UOG operation sites are recognized as being developmental and reproductive toxicants; therefore there is a compelling need to increase our knowledge of the potential health consequences for adults, infants, and children from these chemicals through rapid and thorough health research investigation.

Literature from Japan’s Mega-City, 1750-1850