Perinatal Outcomes and Unconventional Natural Gas Operations in Southwest Pennsylvania
PLoS ONE (June 3, 2015;DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0126425) / by Shaina L. Stacy, et al.
Unconventional gas drilling (UGD) has enabled extraordinarily rapid growth in the extraction of natural gas. Despite frequently expressed public concern, human health studies have not kept pace. We investigated the association of proximity to UGD in the Marcellus Shale formation and perinatal outcomes in a retrospective cohort study of 15,451 live births in Southwest Pennsylvania from 2007–2010. Mothers were categorized into exposure quartiles based on inverse distance weighted (IDW) well count; least exposed mothers (first quartile) had an IDW well count less than 0.87 wells per mile, while the most exposed (fourth quartile) had 6.00 wells or greater per mile. Multivariate linear (birth weight) or logistical (small for gestational age (SGA) and prematurity) regression analyses, accounting for differences in maternal and child risk factors, were performed. There was no significant association of proximity and density of UGD with prematurity. Comparison of the most to least exposed, however, revealed lower birth weight (3323 ± 558 vs 3344 ± 544 g) and a higher incidence of SGA (6.5 vs 4.8%, respectively; odds ratio: 1.34; 95% confidence interval: 1.10–1.63). While the clinical significance of the differences in birth weight among the exposure groups is unclear, the present findings further emphasize the need for larger studies, in regio-specific fashion, with more precise characterization of exposure over an extended period of time to evaluate the potential public health significance of UGD.