Environmental issues have long had myriad impacts on fetal and child development. A new study published in Environment International suggests that expectant mothers living near oil and gas wells may be more likely to give birth to an infant with congenital heart defects (CHD).
The researchers looked at 3324 infants who were born in Colorado between 2005 and 2011. In the cohort there were 187 infants with an aortic artery and valve defect (AAVD); 179 infants with a pulmonary artery and valve defect (PAVD); 132 infants with a conotruncal defect (CTD); and 38 with a tricuspid valve defect (TVD). These children were frequency matched 1:5 to controls, yielding 2860 controls. Monthly intensities of oil and gas activity at the mothers’ homes were estimated from 3 months before conception through the second gestational month. Logistic aggression models adjusted for intensity of air pollution not linked to oil and gas; oil and gas facilities other than wells; the mother’s age and socioeconomic status; and infant sex and parity.
Congenital heart defects were found to be 1.4 times more likely than controls in the group with medium-intensity exposure. In the high-intensity exposure group, CHD was 1.7 more likely than in the control group. Rural area addresses were 1.8 times more likely in the medium-intensity group and 2.6 times more likely in the high-intensity group to have AAVD. Similarly, CTDs were 2.1 times more likely in medium-intensity exposure and 4.0 times more likely in high-intensity exposure in rural areas. Tricuspid valve defects were 4.0 times more likely and 4.6 times more likely in medium- and high-intensity groups in rural areas. Urban areas did not see a similar connection for AAVD, CTD, and TVD. Among mothers who had an identifiable address in the second gestational month, PAVDs were 1.7 more likely in medium-intensity exposure groups and 2.5 times more likely in the high-intensity groups when compared with the controls.
The researchers concluded that their study added more evidence to the positive link between expectant mothers living near oil and gas wells and multiple varieties of CHDs. They did say that CHDs may be undercounted because non-live births, terminated pregnancies, and diagnosis after age 3 years were not taken into account.