Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Researchers say babies born near fracking wells at risk for health issues; more research needed

Babies born near wells used for hydraulic fracturing are more at risk to have health issues, according to a series of studies conducted in Colorado, Pennsylvania, Utah and New York, Isaac Arnsdorf reports for Bloomberg News. Researchers, though, cautioned that the studies are preliminary and more research needs to be conducted.

One study by the Colorado School of Public Health found "more congenital heart defects in babies born to mothers living near gas wells in Colorado," Arnsdorf writes. The study, which the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment said wasn't conclusive because it didn’t account for different types of wells, water quality, mothers’ behavior or genetics, "found that babies born to mothers living with more than 125 wells within a mile of their homes showed a 30 percent increase in congenital heart defects, compared with those with no wells within 10 miles. The abnormalities, based on 59 available cases in Colorado, ranged in severity and could have resulted from genes or environmental causes other than fossil-fuel extraction."

"A separate investigation in 2013 into 22 anomalies in unborn children in Garfield County, Colo., found no underlying cause after examining factors including proximity to active oil and gas wells, the state’s public health department said in May," Arnsdorf writes. "The county has more than 2,000 oil and gas wells, according to, an industry-sponsored website."

Two Pennsylvania studies, which haven't been published in peer-review journals, "found increases in low birth weight near gas drilling," Arnsdorf writes. "Infants born within 1.6 miles of fracking sites were about 60 percent more likely to have low birth weight, according to a review of Pennsylvania birth records from 2004 to 2011 by researchers from Princeton University, Columbia University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The study was presented at the annual meeting of the American Economic Association in January."
"That research echoed a December working paper by Elaine Hill, then a Cornell University economics graduate student in Ithaca, N.Y., which found that babies born to mothers living within 1.5 miles of a gas well during pregnancy had lower average birth weights after drilling than before,"  Arnsdorf writes. "The results were consistent between piped public water and well water, suggesting that the exposure came from air pollution or stress, Hill said in the paper."

"In Utah’s Uintah Basin, where at least 17 drillers operate, the air has dangerously high levels of ozone and other toxins from oil and gas emissions, according to measurements in the first two months of 2012 and 2013 by researchers at the University of Colorado at Boulder," Arnsdorf writes. (Read more)

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