Data on over 10,000 pregnancies in Pennsylvania from 2009 to 2013 show odds of premature births increase 40 percent when expectant mothers live in heavily fracked communities
Washington, DC — In peer-reviewed research published last week in Epidemiology, a high-impact public health journal, scientists from Johns Hopkins, Brown, UC-San Francisco and UC-Berkeley reported that shale gas drilling, fracking and production in Pennsylvania was associated with premature births and at-risk pregnancies.
Sandra Steingraber, PhD., biologist and science advisor for Americans Against Fracking, said, “Preterm birth is a leading cause of disability and infant death that incurs ruinous healthcare costs on families and society at large. Any form of energy extraction that harms the well-being of infants and pregnant women has no place in society. These data show that a ban on fracking is good prenatal care.”
The scientists analyzed data on the outcomes of 10,496 pregnancies of 9,384 women in 699 different communities, mostly in northeastern Pennsylvania, from January 2009 through January 2013, along with data on shale gas drilling, fracking and production at every recorded well within 20 kilometers (12.4 miles) of the residence of each of the women.
Four levels (or quartiles) of exposure to drilling, fracking and production activity experienced by pregnant women were defined. The lower-quartile of women were exposed to activity at an average of 6 gas wells within 12.4 miles of their home, while high-level (upper-quartile) exposure amounted to having an average of 124 gas wells within that distance.
The study found that the odds of preterm birth were 40 percent higher among the new mothers that had experienced the high-level of exposure to gas drilling, fracking and production, compared to those who had the low-level of exposure to the industry. Pregnant women with the high-level of exposure were also found to be 30 percent more likely to have “high-risk” pregnancies.
Pediatrician Kathy Nolan M.D., member of Concerned Health Professionals of New York, said “Air contaminations and other toxic exposures from fracking activities cause a wide range of prenatal complications, some of which are clearly documented in this study. The more closely fracking activities are examined, the more evidence we find of harms. Protecting people from fracking’s known and presumed exposures is an urgent matter for public health, and states across the country should follow New York’s lead in halting unsafe fracking activities.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, preterm birth is both the leading cause of neurological disability in the United States and the leading cause of infant deaths. In 2005, the annual cost of preterm birth to the nation was estimated at $26 billion. Shortened gestation, has demonstrable links to chemical exposures, including to air pollutants—especially combustion byproducts and fine particulate matter—as previous peer-review studies indicate.
The study on fracking and birth outcomes in northeastern Pennsylvania comes on the heels of a study published in July by researchers at Columbia University and the University of Pennsylvania, showing significantly increased rates of hospitalization among southwest Pennsylvanians living in communities where fracking is extensive.
Among other findings, the authors of that study concluded that if a community went from having no fracked gas wells to about 80 fracked gas wells within 40 square miles, local hospitals would see a 27 percent spike in cardiac-related admissions.
Link to Johns Hopkins School of Public Health news release:
Link to new study on fracking and birth outcomes:
Link to study re fracking and hospitalization rates:
Contact: Tolu Onafowokan, tolu.o[at]berlinrosen[dot]com, 646-200-5331