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Your Environment. Your Health.

Expectant Mothers Near Fracking Wells Risk Adverse Birth Outcomes

Brian Schwartz, M.D.
Johns Hopkins University
R21ES023675, T32ES007141

Expectant mothers living near unconventional natural gas development, also known as fracking, in Pennsylvania were at greater risk of giving birth prematurely and having high-risk pregnancies, according to a study funded by NIEHS. The study supplements current limited evidence that unconventional natural gas development may adversely affect birth outcomes.

Researchers analyzed data from the Geisinger Health System from 2009 to 2013. Geisinger is a rural health care organization serving 40 counties in central and northeast Pennsylvania. The scientists compared pregnancy outcome with distance between pregnant women’s homes and unconventional natural gas wells. The statistical models also incorporated dates and duration of drilling during the timeframe of the pregnancies.

The researchers found that living in areas with the highest unconventional natural gas development activity was associated with a 40 percent increase in the likelihood of a woman giving birth before 37 weeks of gestation. These women also had a 30 percent increase in the chance that their pregnancy would be high-risk, a designation made by doctors based on a variety of factors, including elevated blood pressure or excessive weight gain during pregnancy.

Citation: Casey JA, Savitz DA, Rasmussen SG, Ogburn EL, Pollak J, Mercer DG, Schwartz BS. 2015. Unconventional natural gas development and birth outcomes in Pennsylvania, USA. Epidemiology; doi: 10.1097/eDe.0000000000000387 [Online 30 September 2015]

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