CU study suggests women living near oil and gas wells are more likely to have children with heart defects

DENVER -- A new study from the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus hits on a heated debate in Colorado over oil and gas production. The highlights suggest mothers living in areas with the most intense levels of oil and gas well activity were about 40-70% more likely to have children with congenital heart defects.

“This may be something people may want to consider in the decisions they are making,” said the study’s senior author Lisa McKenzie, PhD, MPH, of the Colorado School of Public Health.

McKenzie says more research needs to be done, but there could be two specific reasons for the defects: hazardous air pollutants emitted from oil and gas sites as well as high levels of noise that can induce high stress in a mother that can also affect her child.

A similar study from McKenzie in the past was criticized for being too limited. But she says the new research addresses those concerns and looks at the specific stage of oil and gas development and pregnancy.

“[It] looks at the critical time for development of congenital heart defects, which is really during the second month of pregnancy,” said McKenzie.

The new study was released in the Journal Environment International on Thursday.

The findings support one of the main arguments for restrictions on new oil and gas development in Colorado.

Meanwhile, industry representatives are critical of the findings and the researcher behind them.

A statement from the Colorado Oil And Gas Association says:

“This study is not new. It’s a reexamination of her 2014 report using the same old data from 2005 to 2011 -- data that has no relevance to current regulations or to the common practices used by today’s operators. Interestingly, this study says particulate matter from oil and gas operations could lead to these health effects, but that contradicts the conclusions of another McKenzie study published just last month that found particulate matter levels near Colorado oil and gas operations were three times lower than EPA national air standards. Bottom line, the data is old and no air samples were taken. However, air samples that have been taken by Colorado’s health department, for many years now, are conclusive. After thousands of thousands of air samples, many of which have been collected near oil and gas operations, not one exceeds state or federal protective health guidelines. Dr. McKenzie’s studies have been called “misleading” in the past, and this seems to be par for the course.”

McKenzie urges anyone with concerns over the new findings to consult their doctor and share concerns with policy makers.

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