Enviros find a new reason to object to fracking: Claim it harms babies

Enviros find a new reason to object to fracking: Claim it harms babies

When in doubt, make it about the children … unless of course the topic is “reproductive rights” (aka abortion), in which case babies are dispensable.

That seems to be what some environmentalists have resorted to in the wake of a new preliminary study purportedly linking hydraulic fracturing to lower birth weight in newborn babies.

Sounds terrifying, until you read the study and realize it doesn’t claim that shale development is causing babies to have lower birth weights or even that the investigation is conclusive. Study co-author Bruce Pitt of the University of Pittsburgh even emphasized in a press release:

It is important to stress that our study does not say that these pollutants [associated with fracking] caused the lower birth weights. Unconventional gas development is dynamic and varies from site to site, changing the potential for human exposure. To draw firm conclusions, we need studies that thoroughly assess the exposure of a very large number of pregnant women to not just the gas wells, but other potential pollutants.

Environmentalists, however, touted the study as more evidence of the dangers of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking — which is particularly interesting since the EPA just released a draft assessment of fracking finding no “evidence that these mechanisms have led to widespread, systemic impacts on drinking water resources in the United States.”

The Pittsburgh study was published in a journal that does not require any peer-review process and funded, moreover, by the Heinz Endowment, which has also bankrolled the activities of environmental groups opposed to fracking and other fossil fuels.

The study examined data for more than 15,000 babies in western Pennsylvania counties from 2007 to 2010 that lived within 10 miles of natural gas wells during the gestation period. Researchers claimed to find an association between lower baby birth weights and proximity to fracked wells.

Pitt’s study found “no significant association of proximity and density of [unconventional gas drilling] with prematurity,” but added that babies closer to gas wells had “lower birth weight… and a higher incidence of [being small for gestational age].” But critics of the study have pointed out flaws in the research.

Nicole Jacobs, with the oil and gas industry-backed Energy In Depth, found Pitt’s study didn’t actually use the National Institute of Health’s definition of low birth weights of less than 2,500 grams — Pitt’s study found that birth weight ranges from 3323.1 grams to 3370.4 grams.

The study’s authors also admit they can’t tell what the gestation age is for the babies they examined. Jacobs noted that “most doctors’ offices use menstrual history at least initially to determine the gestational age” but found that Pitt’s study relied on birth certificates to tell gestation age.

Determining the gestation age at birth for babies, however, is very problematic. The National Library of Medicine says that the “baby’s developmental gestational age may not be the same as the calendar age.”

“In other words, the researchers have no way of knowing if their SGA numbers are accurate or if a baby born at 40 weeks was actually born early, on time or late,” Jacobs argued. “No wonder they couldn’t draw any conclusions from the data!”

Pitt and his colleagues also did not note the date these babies were born, assuming that natural gas wells in the area were built during a woman’s pregnancy. The study also did not state whether the address where babies lived after birth were the same they lived in while in utero.

Jacobs said “the researchers had no way of determining when the women became pregnant, or if they were pregnant during the shale development phase.”

This report, by Michael Bastasch, was cross-posted by arrangement with the Daily Caller News Foundation.

LU Staff

LU Staff

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