Baby
Shutterstock

When frackers operate, they produce pollution that’s been linked to birth defects — volatile organic compounds, benzene, nitrogen oxides, and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, among other nasties.

And now new research has found higher incidences of birth defects in babies born near some fracking areas. 

The Colorado School of Public Health funded research by university and state scientists that looked for any correlations between fracking operations and nearby rates of congenital heart defects, neural tube defects, and oral clefts. The researchers analyzed 124,842 births between 1996 and 2009 in rural Colorado and compared them with locations of known fracking wells.

The results, published late last month by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, suggest that being pregnant near a fracking site is a bad idea.

[W]e observed an association between density and proximity of natural gas wells within a 10-mile radius of maternal residence and prevalence of CHD [congenital heart defects] and possibly NTD [neural tube defects],” the scientists concluded in their paper.

Mothers who lived near fracking hotspots with the most wells were twice as likely to give birth to a baby with a neural tube defect as were those who lived at least 10 miles from the nearest well. Those same mothers were 30 percent more likely to bear a child with a congenital heart defect. Such birth defects are leading causes of infant mortality.

The research revealed a correlation between fracking operations and birth defects, but stopped short of concluding that the frackers are actually causing the health problems. Still, this aligns with previous findings by other scientists, like research we told you about last month, which found that babies born near fracking sites in Pennsylvania were more likely than others to have a range of health problems.

The NRDC’s Miriam Rotkin-Ellman puts the latest findings into context:

This is the first published peer reviewed study realistically examining whether people living near sites where fracking has occurred are experiencing more health impacts. The fact that it found a statistically significant association is very worrisome, especially in combination with early reports of similar findings from a study in Pennsylvania. Although these types of studies can’t tell us definitively that pollution from oil and gas wells is the cause of the elevated birth defects, the findings of this study are like a flashing light saying something is going on here and we need to take action to make sure our most vulnerable are protected. …

This study confirms that there are serious concerns about health risks of living near fracking sites and that much more research is needed to fully understand the risks and how, and if, they can be mitigated. The findings of this study suggest that the explosion of oil [and] gas development in close proximity to people’s homes and without adequate assessment, monitoring, and pollution controls could be resulting in harm to human health.

That’s fracked up.