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Study: More cases of childhood leukemia in areas of high-density oil and gas development

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AURORA, Colo. — Colorado children and young adults with acute lymphocytic leukemia were 4.3 times more likely to live in areas of high-density oil and gas development, according to a study released Wednesday.

Researchers linked to petroleum companies quickly disavowed the study, saying it ignores other major risk factors.

Researchers at the Colorado School of Public Health at CU Anschutz focused on rural areas and towns in 57 Colorado counties and excluded urban areas of more than 50,000 people.

According to the report, which was published in the journal PLOS One, U.S. oil and gas development has grown rapidly over the past 15 years, and the activity has the potential to emit toxic substances into air and water, including carcinogens such as benzene.

“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,” lead investigator Dr. Lisa McKenzie said.

There are hundreds of oil and gas wells within one mile of a home in Colorado’s most intensive areas of oil and gas development, researchers said.

McKenzie said more research is needed to learn why there are more childhood leukemia diagnoses in people living in areas of high-density oil and gas development.

The report suggests tracking the levels of specific pollutants near homes, schools and day care centers in relation to oil and gas development activities and production levels in the area.

Researchers associated with the Independent Petroleum Association of America said McKenzie ignored factors such as family history and genetic disorders, and said the report was published in a “joke” of a journal.

“[The] paper presents evidence of nothing, except a desire to alarm the public, generate headlines and grab the attention of potential donors for future research grants,” Katie Brown with Energy in Depth wrote. “Even worse, this transparent sales pitch exploits the suffering of children with leukemia and their families.”