Background: Oil and gas development emits known hematological carcinogens, such as benzene, and increasingly occurs in residential areas. We explored whether residential proximity to oil and gas development was associated with risk for hematologic cancers using a registry-based case-control study design.
Methods: Participants were 0-24 years old, living in rural Colorado, and diagnosed with cancer between 2001-2013. For each child in our study, we calculated inverse distance weighted (IDW) oil and gas well counts within a 16.1-kilometer radius of residence at cancer diagnosis for each year in a 10 year latency period to estimate density of oil and gas development. Logistic regression, adjusted for age, race, gender, income, and elevation was used to estimate associations across IDW well count tertiles for 87 acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL) cases and 50 non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL) cases, compared to 528 controls with non-hematologic cancers.
Findings: Overall, ALL cases 0-24 years old were more likely to live in the highest IDW well count tertiles compared to controls, but findings differed substantially by age. For ages 5-24, ALL cases were 4.3 times as likely to live in the highest tertile, compared to controls (95% CI: 1.1 to 16), with a monotonic increase in risk across tertiles (trend p-value = 0.035). Further adjustment for year of diagnosis increased the association. No association was found between ALL for children aged 0-4 years or NHL and IDW well counts. While our study benefited from the ability to select cases and controls from the same population, use of cancer-controls, the limited number of ALL and NHL cases, and aggregation of ages into five year ranges, may have biased our associations toward the null. In addition, absence of information on O&G well activities, meteorology, and topography likely reduced temporal and spatial specificity in IDW well counts.
Conclusion: Because oil and gas development has potential to expose a large population to known hematologic carcinogens, further study is clearly needed to substantiate both our positive and negative findings. Future studies should incorporate information on oil and gas development activities and production levels, as well as levels of specific pollutants of interest (e.g. benzene) near homes, schools, and day care centers; provide age-specific residential histories; compare cases to controls without cancer; and address other potential confounders, and environmental stressors.