Reports of rising fetal abnormalities near fracking sites:
Denver Post, 4/25/14, Nancy Lofholm - “Probe of fetal defects in drilling area of Garfield County drags on”
GLENWOOD SPRINGS — A state investigation into a rash of fetal anomalies in the Roaring Fork Valley is taking longer than expected, and environmentalists and scientific researchers are eager to see whether there might be a link to oil and gas drilling in the area.
The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment has been investigating a higher-than-normal number of fetal problems reported to the state in March by Valley View Hospital in Glenwood Springs.
Neither the state nor the hospital will say until the investigation is complete how many cases of what the state is terming “pre-birth” problems were documented or what kind of anomalies were observed in the fetuses. They won’t say if they all involved miscarriages. They also are not speculating on possible causes.
But others are.
A Colorado study released this year pointed to the possibility that mothers living near oil and gas developments have an increased risk of having babies with some specific defects. Other studies around the country have linked some of the chemicals involved in drilling — but also released in vehicle exhaust and other industrial operations — to fetal problems and birth defects.
“It’s horrifying what’s going on in Glenwood,” said Carol Kwiatkowski, executive director of the Endocrine Disruption Exchange, an international nonprofit that compiles evidence about health and environmental problems associated with exposure to chemicals called endocrine disrupters. These chemicals have been found in elevated levels around oil and gas wells.
Two related studies in Colorado, however, have had their conclusions questioned by the oil and gas industry as well as some medical professionals.
The Roaring Fork Valley investigation was expected to take a couple of weeks. But after an epidemiologist and another researcher from the health department’s Disease Control and Environmental Epidemiology Division spent time in Glenwood Springs recently, results are not expected to be released until May, said health department spokesman Mark Salley.
Salley wouldn’t say why it is taking longer but did confirm that such an investigation is out of the ordinary.
“This is the first study of pre-born children done by the department,” Salley said.
Valley View spokeswoman Stacey Gavrell said the hospital became aware of and reported the higher-than-normal number of fetal anomalies because nurse/midwife and obstetric and gynecological clinics are in Valley View.
The state’s investigation follows a study done by the University of Colorado Denver’s School of Public Health that found a possible link between drilling chemicals that get into the atmosphere and developmental problems in fetuses.
That study found an increased prevalence of as much as 30 percent in heart and neural-tube defects in the fetuses of pregnant women living within 10 miles of concentrations of natural-gas wells.
An earlier study commissioned in Garfield County, which has the second-highest concentration of wells in the state after Weld County, also raised the possibility that certain chemicals, particularly benzene, found in elevated levels in the air around wells could contribute to birth defects and prenatal problems.
That study was terminated by the county while it was still in draft form because the Garfield County commissioners found that conflicting and controversial information and opinions about the study could turn it into a “never-ending” document.
“Our study indicated that there are potential exposures that should be studied further,” said Lisa McKenzie, an associate researcher at CU who was a lead author of the statewide and Garfield County studies, both of which were criticized by oil and gas interests and by some others in the medical field.
Dr. Larry Wolk, the chief medical director for the state health department, said the most recent study had potential data-skewing limitations such as not establishing where women lived during the first trimester of pregnancy, when most fetal problems occur. It likewise didn’t take into account such factors as access to health care, alcohol consumption and smoking.
Wolk cautioned in a statement after the study was released that “people should not rush to judgment.”
Doug Flanders, director of policy and external affairs for the Colorado Oil and Gas Association, seconded that.
“I will let the department finish and release their information before jumping to conclusions,” he said about the investigation into the pre-birth problems.
Bob Arrington, a resident of Battlement Mesa in western Garfield County and a member of the Grand Valley Citizens Alliance, said he also is willing to wait for the health department’s findings before passing judgment, but he questions whether a large leak of natural-gas fluids near Parachute at the end of 2012 and into early 2013 could have contributed to the increase in fetal problems. An estimated 10,000 gallons of hydrocarbon fluids leaked into the ground.
“With that type of output, it’s no surprise that this kind of thing could happen,” he said.
But data released this week from Garfield County’s air-monitoring program showed there were no ambient air-quality violations for last year. Five monitoring sites showed the level of benzene and other chemicals in the air was well below federally set safe levels.
Kwiatkowski said that whatever the state investigation finds, she is heartened that the medical community reported a potential problem to authorities.
“We have been encouraging the medical community to get involved,” she said. “A lot of times, they are the only ones who can make a connection like this.”
Environmental Health Perspectives – “Birth Outcomes and Maternal Residential Proximity to Natural Gas Development in Rural Colorado”
Would you really want to live here? Currently, oil and gas fracking and drilling is taking place close to where we live, work, and play. This heavy industrial process is impacting our quality of life, our home values, and our health and safety.
Local communities do not currently have the ability to hold fracking to the same reasonable regulations required for other industrial activities. Local control can provide protections for home and business owners that will protect their property values, their health, and their bottom line. It is common sense for our local municipal governments to strike the right balance between the needs of the community and oil and gas company interests.
With local control of oil and gas drilling, we can have common sense regulations that protect our communities and your home.
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