As if we needed more evidence that oil and gas drilling is bad news: mothers living near intense oil and gas development are 40-70% more likely to have babies with congenital heart defects (CHDs).
Published in Environmental International, the new study consisted of 3,324 infants born in Colorado, where 6% of the population lives within one mile of an active oil and gas well site, from 2005-2011.
“We observed more children were being born with a congenital heart defect in areas with the highest intensity of oil and gas well activity,” said the study’s senior author Lisa McKenzie, PhD, MPH.
CHDs are the most common birth defect in the country and a leading cause of death among infants born with birth defects. CHDs raise the likelihood of the infant having developmental problems and brain injuries.
One of the culprits causing these detrimental effects on the developing fetus may be teratogens, which are hazardous air pollutants emitted from well sites that are known to cross the placenta.
Previous studies in Colorado between 1996 and 2009 and Oklahoma found similar associations but had limitations on them, such as not being able to confirm specific CHDs through medical records and not being able to distinguish between well development and production phases at sites.
This latest study addressed all of those limitations. Not only were researchers able to confirm where the mothers lived from the beginning of pregnancy but they were also about to estimate the intensity of well activity and account for the presence of other air pollution sources and were able to confirm CHDs by a medical record review.
“This study provides further evidence of a positive association between maternal proximity to oil and gas well site activities and several types of CHDs,” said McKenzie. “Taken together, our results and expanding the development of oil and gas well sites underscore the importance of continuing to conduct comprehensive and rigorous research on health consequences of early life exposure to oil and gas activities.”
There are at least 17 million people in the U.S. that live within one mile of an active oil and gas well site. The Trump administration is hell-bent on opening up even more land for oil and gas development, including 725,000 acres of public land in California.