Published on June 8, 2015
Pregnant women living near multiple fracking sites are more likely to have lower birth weight babies than those who live farther away, according to a new study by the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health. The study analyzed births and fracking activity in three counties where 18% of Pennsylvania’s fracking takes place. The researchers found that women who lived within one mile of 6 or more fracking wells had a 34% greater likelihood of having babies that are “small for gestational age”, which is a birth weight in the lowest 10 percent of the baby’s gestational age (as opposed to low birth weight, defined as lower than 5.5 pounds).
Hydraulic fracturing, known colloquially as “fracking”, is a natural gas recovery technique that uses unconventional methods to release gas trapped deep underground. Bores are drilled far down into the shale, and fracking fluid, composed of water, sand, and 6-10 chemicals, including surfactants, biocides, and metal chelators, is forced into the well at high pressure to crack the shale and release the gas within. Environmental hazards of fracking include air pollution, which the study describes as being “both direct (flaring of methane gas at well heads, controlled burning of natural gas and release of VOCs including benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene and xylene) and indirect (traffic, diesel operated compressors).” Since the researchers didn’t have exact information about how much pollution pregnant women were exposed to from fracking wells, they used proximity to the wells to account for exposure data.
This study analyzed 15,390 birth records from Butler, Washington and Westmoreland counties in Pennsylvania for the time period 2007-2010. This data was cross-referenced with data on the proximity of fracking wells to the pregnant moms’ homes. The study authors note that fracking in Pennsylvania has grown from 44 wells before 2007 to 2,864 fracking wells drilled between 2007 and 2010. The authors are careful to say that their study only shows an association between lower birth weight and fracking, and recommend further study of the issue. But the co-author of the study, Bruce Pitt, Ph.D., chair of the University of Pittsburgh’s Public Health’s Department of Environmental and Occupational Health, added this warning: “Developing fetuses are particularly sensitive to the effects of environmental pollutants,” said Dr. Pitt. “We know that fine particulate air pollution, exposure to heavy metals and benzene, and maternal stress all are associated with lower birth weight.”
Thornton Law Firm is investigating birth defect and other reproductive disorder claims against the fracking industry in Colorado, Pennsylvania, and other states. The birth defect lawyers at Thornton Law Firm are also involved in active litigation on behalf of many clients whose children were born with devastating birth defects caused in a variety of wrongful ways, whether by unsafe prescription or over-the-counter medications, workplace chemical exposures , or toxic pollutants that contaminate the air or groundwater of their communities. If you believe you or a family member has been harmed by nearby fracking operations, please tell us your birth defect story here, or contact our birth defect attorneys at 888-491-9726 for a free, confidential evaluation of your legal case.