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New Study Investigates Link Between Birth Defects and Oil and Gas Industry

Fracking and Birth Defects

Babies born near oil and gas wells are more likely to suffer injuries and serious birth defects. According to a recent article in Bloomberg, early research into the links between health risks and oil and gas development suggest that birth injuries may result from fracking.

Many environmental advocates continue to lobby against fracking. “Fracking” is short for hydraulic fracturing, the “process of blasting chemicals, sand, and water deep underground to extract fuel from rock.” According to Lisa McKenzie, one of the researchers from the Colorado School of Public Health who authored the birth defect study, “it’s not really well understood how the environment interacts with genetics to produce these birth defects.” She believes researchers need to conduct more tests to determine “what the association is, if any, with natural gas developments.”

McKenzie and her colleagues discovered that babies born to mothers living near more than 125 gas wells within a mile of their homes saw a 30 percent increase in congenital heart defects. They also found that babies born within 1.6 miles of fracking sites “were about 60 percent more likely to have low birth weight,” a sign of possible developmental problems. The number of stillbirths in areas with significant oil and gas pollution also suggests a link between birth defects and environmental hazards.

According to a spokesperson for a pro-fracking group, “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.” That spokesperson says “the answer is yes,” but McKenzie’s research suggests otherwise. Many pro-fracking commentators contend that McKenzie’s study overlooks other data, and fails to provide a full picture of the causes of various birth defects.

Common Types of Birth Defects

Birth defects occur during a baby’s development in utero, and are more common than many people imagine. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) reports that about one in every 33 infants suffers from a birth defect. In most cases, birth defects develop during the first trimester of a mother’s pregnancy.

Birth defects can affect many different parts of the body, and can range greatly in severity. For example, the NIH identifies some common birth defects:

  • Cleft lip/palate: results from the tissues in the mouth or lip forming improperly during pregnancy;
  • Clubfoot: occurs when the muscles, bones, joints, or blood vessels do not form correctly around the foot and ankle;
  • Neural tube defects: result from development problems in the brain and spine (common neural tube defects include spina bifida and anencephaly); and
  • Heart defects: include congenital heart defects, atrial defects, and other serious conditions of the heart.

While the exact correlation between birth defects and environmental factors, such as fracking, is still unclear, there have been several studies linking the two. Therefore, if your child was born with a birth defect, it is important to consult with an experienced birth defect attorney to understand your rights.

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