A new study by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health has determined that active natural gas wells in Pennsylvania employing fracking technologies put expectant mothers at a significantly higher risk of premature birth and of generally having high-risk pregnancies.
The research findings were published online at the end of September, 2015, in the medical journal Epidemiology. Concerns have existed for a number of years about the harm fracking causes those who live near the wells.
A Short Course in Fracking
High-volume hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking” as it is commonly known, is a current darling of the natural gas industry. Fracking injects water and chemicals into certain rock formations, releasing the natural gas trapped in the shale. Also known as unconventional natural gas wells, they have sprung up across the U.S. at a rapid pace. Enormous clusters of such wells exist in nearby Pennsylvania—more than 8,000 of them, in fact. Less than ten years ago, in 2006, fewer than 100 unconventional gas wells had been drilled in Pennsylvania.
Fracking requires the use of dangerous chemicals; each well needs 80 to 140 tons of these toxic materials to extract the gas. Over the past decade, widespread reports from people who have lived near the wells have indicated strong links between illness and fracking. Now it looks as if there is yet another possible “fraccident” to worry about.
In 2014, it was reported that more than 15 million people live within one mile of a fracking well. That’s a lot of potential fraccidents.
Clear Links Found in the Study
Scientists at Johns Hopkins University, Brown University, and the Universities of California at Berkeley and San Francisco, studied records from the 10,496 single births by 9,384 mothers who lived in almost 700 Pennsylvania communities from 2009-2013. The data included the length of the pregnancies in weeks, the birth weights, and the infant sizes according to each baby’s gestational age, or number of weeks carried by the mother. Simultaneously, fracking and gas production were tracked within a 12.4-mile radius of each woman.
The one-fourth of the women determined to have the most exposure to fracking were 40 percent more likely to give birth prematurely, meaning earlier than 37 weeks of gestation, than the one-fourth of mothers considered the least exposed. When all the pregnancies in the study were considered, 11 percent of the babies were born prematurely, with 79 percent of the mothers giving birth between 32 and 36 weeks.
Those with the most exposure to fracking were also 30 percent more likely to have their pregnancy considered a high-risk one by their obstetricians. High-risk can mean elevated blood pressure or excessive weight gain, both of which can be precursors to serious conditions that are specific to pregnant women.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more infant deaths are related to premature birth than from any other cause. Being born prematurely also puts the children at greater risk for neurological disabilities.
In April, 2015, the Maryland General Assembly passed HB 449, which bans fracking in our state through October 1, 2017. Governor Hogan let it pass into law without his signature.
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