In the city of Vernal, Utah, midwives and scientists are noticing an alarming trend: in 2010 newborn babies accounted for one in every 95 burials, but by 2013 that rate jumped to one in every 15 burials, with a steady increase in the intervening years. And now researchers are probing a link between this increasing infant mortality rate and increases in oil and gas drilling in the region.
Vernal lies in the Uintah Basin region of Utah, which as home to over 12,000 oil and gas wells is deemed one of the most “energy rich” regions of the U.S. And its population is understandably loyal to the industry—it has provided income for residents since the 1940s. But recent increases in oil drilling and fracking have increased air pollution in the area, and some believe that it could account for the increasing rate of newborn fatalities.
In the course of drilling, chemicals such as benzene, toluene and xylenes can cross the placenta, and are recognized to cause heart, brain and spinal defects in developing fetuses. A study last year found that drilling was responsible for levels of ozone higher than those seen in Los Angeles on its worst days, far higher than the levels deemed safe by the Environmental Protection Agency.
In addition, the Denver Post reports: “There was another factor last year: An explosion occurred east of Vernal on March 1, 2013, at a business that handles and cleans fracking equipment. The blast blew debris over a half-mile area. No one knows what it might have blown into the air. No measurements were taken.”
And the problem is not just limited to Vernal. 175 miles away, in neighboring Colorado an “unusually high number of fetal anomalies” were reported in Glenwood Springs in late 2013. However, a study found no link between drilling and the abnormalities.
Scientists looking into the baby deaths in Vernal believe that there is a connection. Speaking to the Denver Post, Susan Nagel, Ph.D, a University of Missouri School of Medicine researcher, expressed “I suspect it is real — that there is a relationship,” while Dr. Brian Moench explained “Suffice it to say that air pollution from drilling is a part of it.” Liza McKenzie, a research associate at the Colorado School of Public Health has also been researching the health effects of fracking fluids, and has found that “babies born to mothers living within 10 miles of wells are at greater risk of congenital heart defects and neural tube defects.”
The concern from these scientists, and from midwives in Vernal has been enough to raise the alarm, and the Utah Department of Health is now working on its own study
Via The Denver Post
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