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Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Efforts Continue to Connect Natural Gas Drilling to Birth Defects

Is it time to sound the alarm on
fracking's link to birth defects?
From Bloomberg:
McKenzie and her colleagues discovered more congenital heart defects in babies born to mothers living near gas wells in Colorado. Two studies, which have not been peer reviewed, showed infants born near fracking sites in Pennsylvania were more likely to have low birth weight, a sign of developmental problems. In Utah, local authorities are investigating a spate of stillbirths after tests found dangerous levels of air pollution from the oil and gas industry. 
“The question isn’t are there risks, the question is are there rules and regulations in place that effectively mitigate these risks and deal with problems should they occur, and the answer is yes,” said Steve Everley, a spokesman for Washington-based Energy In Depth, an industry-funded group that promotes fracking. “The body of scientific knowledge has to advance gradually and you have to look at all of these things and the full spectrum. You can’t just look at this one individual or this group of studies.” 
Mitigate Risks 
In published research, McKenzie and her colleagues found that babies born to mothers living with more than 125 wells within a mile (1.6 km) 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, according to McKenzie. 
Mothers’ Genetics 
The study wasn’t conclusive because it didn’t account for different types of wells, water quality, mothers’ behavior or genetics, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment said in an e-mailed statement. The state’s oil and gas rules are the most stringent in the nation, said Larry Wolk, the department’s director and chief medical officer. 
“I would tell pregnant women and mothers who live, or who at the time of their pregnancy lived, in proximity to a gas well not to rely on this study as an explanation of why one of their children might have had a birth defect,” Wolk said in the statement. “Many factors known to contribute to birth defects were ignored in this study.” 
McKenzie said she’s starting another four-year study, funded by the American Heart Association, that focuses on a subset of the cases to determine their precise exposures to pollutants and other risk factors, such as the parents’ occupations. 
“I think it’s up to each individual to look at the data and make their own decision on whether or not they’re concerned,” McKenzie said. “The data do tell us with more wells in the area there are more congenital heart defects, although there are a lot of limitations in the data and when we start looking at it more closely, that may or may not stand up.”
Read the whole article here.

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