Toolkit―Maternal & Child Health

Pregnant individuals and newborns are vulnerable populations that can be adversely impacted from pollution, such as emissions from shale gas development (SGD). Research has shown complications such as low birth weight can be an indicator of impaired growth in the early years of a child’s life. Research has also suggested that issues at birth (preterm birth, cognitive delays, etc.) can lead to increased mortality and morbidity as well as an increased risk for hypertension, coronary heart disease, and diabetes in adulthood. Newborns are in a critical stage of development when born, therefore being exposed to different environmental toxins can greatly impact the child’s development.  

In addition, research has indicated that exposure to ambient air pollution is associated with various birth outcomes, including congenital heart defects, neural tube defects, small for gestational age, low birth weight, preterm delivery, hypertension, and preeclampsia. This is evident from studies that looked specifically at impacts to pregnant individuals and children living in proximity to SGD.    

These studies show:

  • Worsening asthma symptoms are linked to nearness of shale gas facilities. 

  • Symptoms that include headaches, fatigue, upper and lower respiratory complaints, and skin rashes have been reported near well pads. 

  • Babies born to mothers living less than a mile from wells were 25% more likely to be born with low birth weights, which may lead to serious future consequences in growth and development, including asthma, intellectual and developmental disabilities, obesity, and infant mortality.  

  • An increasing number of babies have been born with congenital heart defects and possibly neural tube defects, impacts dependent on both the number of wells in the vicinity and the distance from the wells to mothers’ homes. 

  • Hospitalizations for heart failure are significantly higher in areas impacted by shale gas development.  

USC Breast Cancer Infographic Page 3.png

Graphic courtesy of USC Environmental Health Centers (2021)

WHAT THE RESEARCH SAYS 

Willis, M. D., Hill, E. L., Kile, M. L., et al. (2022). Associations between residential proximity to oil and gas extraction and hypertensive conditions during pregnancy: a difference-in-difference analysis in Texas, 1996-2009.  

This study examined residential proximity to oil and gas extraction and hypertensive conditions during pregnancy, specifically gestational hypertension and eclampsia. The researchers found: 

  • Pregnant individuals living within 0.6 miles of an active oil and gas site had an estimated 5% increased odds of developing gestational hypertension. 

  • Pregnant individuals living within 0.6 miles from an active oil and gas site had an estimated 26% increased odds of developing eclampsia.  

 

Willis, M. D., Hill, E. L., Boslett, A., et al. (2021). Associations between Residential Proximity to Oil and Gas Drilling and Term Birth Weight and Small-for-Gestational-Age Infants in Texas: A Difference-in-Differences Analysis.  

These researchers examined the effect of living near oil and gas drilling sites on the birth weight of newborns in Texas. They found:  

  • Infants of mothers living within 1 km (0.6 miles) of a drilling site at the time of birth had birth weights an average of 30g lower in comparison to those not near a drilling site. 

  • Infants of mothers living 3-10 km (1.8-6.2 miles) from a drilling site at the time of birth had birth weights an average of 14g lower in comparison to those not near a drilling site.  

  • Overall, the difference between birth weight in relation to drilling activity was 16g.  

 

Caron-Beadudoin, É., Valter, N., Chevrier, J., et al. (2018) Gestational exposure to volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in Northeastern British Columbia, Canada: A pilot study. 

Researchers evaluated gestational exposure to benzene and toluene in the Peace River Valley of Northeastern British Columbia, Canada. They found:  

  • There are higher levels of t,t-MA (trans, trans-muconic acid) levels in women in the Peace River Valley region than in the general Canadian population.  

  • There was no significance found in the levels of S-BMA (toluene) or S-PMA (benzene), but the sample size was quite small and more extensive research needs to be done in this area. 

 

Hill, E. L. (2018). Shale Gas Development and Infant Health: Evidence from Pennsylvania. 

This researcher looked at singleton births to mothers who resided in proximity to shale gas wells from 2003-2010 in Pennsylvania.   

  • The introduction of drilling increased low birth weight and decreased term birth weight on average for pregnant individuals living within 2.5 km (1.5 miles) of a well. 

  • An additional well is associated with a 7% increase in low birth weight.  

  • An additional well is associated with a 5-gram reduction in term birth weight.  

  • An additional well is associated with a 3% increase in premature birth.  

 

Currie, J., Greenstone, M., Meckel, K. (2017). Hydraulic fracturing and infant health: New evidence from Pennsylvania. This study looked at more than a million births in Pennsylvania from 2004 to 2013 and compared infants born to mothers at different distances from active shale gas development (SGD) sites. They found:  

  • SGD negatively affects the health of infants born to individuals living within 3 km (1.8 miles) of a shale gas well site during pregnancy.  

  • The closer the pregnant individuals live to the wells, the higher the probability of lower birth weight and significantly lower average birth weight.  

  • Most of the health deficiencies are within a 3 km radius of the wells, so it is safe to say that the health impacts are highly localized.   

 

Busby, C., & Mangano, J. J. (2017). There’s A World Going on Underground—Infant Mortality and Fracking in Pennsylvania.  

In this study, researchers investigated associations between early infant mortality (0-28 days) by county in Pennsylvania for people living in proximity to shale gas development (SGD) activities. They found:  

  • There was an increase in the affected counties from 34 infant deaths to 60.  

  • SGD appears to be associated with early infant mortality in PA counties.  

  • There is some evidence that this mortality is related to private water well density or environmental law violations.  

  • Babies born in the 4 years after SGD began in the major SGD counties in PA were 28% more likely to die in the first month than babies born under the same conditions in the 4 years prior to SGD.  

 

Whitworth, K. W., Marshall, A. K., Symanski, E. (2017). Maternal residential proximity to unconventional gas development and perinatal outcomes among a diverse urban population in Texas.  

Researchers examined associations between unconventional natural gas development (UGD) and perinatal outcomes. They found:  

  • Increased odds of preterm birth associated within 10 miles of UGD activity. 

  • Increased odds of fetal death within 2 miles of UGD activity.  

  • No indication of an association with small for gestational age or term birthweight. 

FULL CITATIONS 

 

Busby, C., & Mangano, J. J. (2017). There’s a World Going on Underground—Infant Mortality and Fracking in Pennsylvania. Journal of Environmental Protection, 08(04), 381–393. https://doi.org/10.4236/jep.2017.84028 

Caron-Beaudoin, L., Valter, N., Chevrier, J., Ayotte, P., Frohlich, K., & Verner, M. A. (2018). Gestational exposure to volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in Northeastern British Columbia, Canada: A pilot study. Environment International, 110, 131–138. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.envint.2017.10.022 

Currie, J., Greenstone, M., & Meckel, K. (2017). Hydraulic fracturing and infant health: New evidence from Pennsylvania. Science Advances, 3(12). https://doi.org/10.1126/sciadv.1603021 

Hill, E. L. (2018). Shale gas development and infant health: Evidence from Pennsylvania. Journal of Health Economics, 61, 134–150. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jhealeco.2018.07.004 

Whitworth, K. W., Marshall, A. K., & Symanski, E. (2017). Maternal residential proximity to unconventional gas development and perinatal outcomes among a diverse urban population in Texas. PLOS ONE, 12(7), e0180966. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0180966 

Willis, M. D., Hill, E. L., Boslett, A., Kile, M. L., Carozza, S. E., & Hystad, P. (2021). Associations between Residential Proximity to Oil and Gas Drilling and Term Birth Weight and Small-for-Gestational-Age Infants in Texas: A Difference-in-Differences Analysis. Environmental Health Perspectives, 129(7), 077002. https://doi.org/10.1289/ehp7678 

Willis, M. D., Hill, E. L., Kile, M. L., Carozza, S., & Hystad, P. (2021). Associations between residential proximity to oil and gas extraction and hypertensive conditions during pregnancy: a difference-in differences analysis in Texas, 1996–2009. International Journal of Epidemiology, 51(2), 525–536. https://doi.org/10.1093/ije/dyab246