Scientists suspect air pollution from oil drilling boom is killing babies in a Utah town
Researchers said that over a dozen infant deaths in one Utah basin over the last year may be related to a recent increase in oil drilling.
In a Sunday report, the Denver Post talked to scientists about the possibilities that the dead babies were “victims of air pollution fed by the nearly 12,000 oil and gas wells in one of the most energy-rich areas in the country.”
“I suspect it is real — that there is a relationship,” University of Missouri School of Medicine researcher Susan Nagel, Ph.D, told the Post.
“Scads of medical studies have concluded that air pollution can harm embryos. Drilling is a documented contributor to that pollution. It is a given that some of the harmful chemicals released in drilling, like benzene, toluene and xylenes, can cross the placental barrier and cause heart, brain and spinal defects,” the paper points out.
“Suffice it to say that air pollution from drilling is a part of it,” Salt Lake City-based anesthesiologist and activist Dr. Brian Moench insisted. “But I think there is a low probability (that) air quality is bad enough to impact infant mortality.”
Utah State University in Vernal air-quality researcher Seth Lyman said that it was obvious that the area had an air-quality problem, “but we try not to freak out.”
To complicate things, there was a large explosion at a business that handles fracking equipment last year that scattered debris over a half-mile area.
Nagel said that she takes the possible connection to infant mortality so seriously that she has begun studying the effects of fracking chemicals on pregnant mice.
“Mechanistically, from what we know about endocrine-disrupting chemicals, it is highly plausible” that the chemicals could cause fetal problems, she observed.
But high wages provided by the oil industry in the area — $3,963 per month for non-farm workers on average — mean that there is little desire to place the blame on drilling.
“People like to blame stuff on that all the time, but I don’t feel like it has anything to do with oil and gas. I just feel like it’s a trial I was given,” Heather Jensen, who had infant sons die in 2011 and 2013, argued.
Ben and Caren Moon recently gave birth after previously losing a pre-term baby. They don’t buy the idea that drilling is increasing the infant mortality rate.
“Oil-field drilling has been here forever,” Ben Moon remarked. “I don’t believe it all had anything to do with that.”