Another danger from fracking: Benzene exposure during pregnancy found to affect maternal health

A study published in the journal Environment International has revealed that living near fracking sites, which are often polluted with highly toxic chemicals such as volatile compounds, may pose adverse health effects especially in pregnant women. A team of Canadian researchers at the Université de Montréal Public Health Research Institute have examined 29 pregnant women living in Peace River Valley in northeastern British Columbia to examine the effects of fracking exposure to human health.

The researchers have observed that all the 29 pregnant participants have had high concentrations of muconic acid in their urine. According to the scientists, the median concentration of muconic acid in the participants is more than three times higher compared with the general Canadian population. The experts have also observed that five of these women have had muconic acid concentrations that exceeded the biological exposure index (BEI). The scientists explain that BEI is a measure developed by the American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists (ACGIH) in order to promote occupational safety.

In addition, the research team has stressed that 14 of 29 participants examined are indigenous. The results show that the median muconic acid concentrations in the urine samples of these indigenous patients are 2.3 times higher compared with non-indigenous participants. Likewise, the researchers have observed that the median muconic acid concentrations in indigenous participants are up to six times higher than those of the general Canadian population.

“Many reports have been written on the contamination of air and water by volatile organic compounds near natural-gas well sites…Although the levels of muconic acid found in the participants’ urine cannot prove beyond a reasonable doubt that they were exposed to high levels of benzene, these results do clearly demonstrate the importance of exploring human exposure to environmental contaminants in natural-gas (fracking) regions,” lead researcher Marc-André Verner tells Science Daily online.

Benzene exposure may negatively affect pregnancy

The research team has stressed that persistent exposure to muconic acid may result in adverse pregnancy outcomes as the chemical is classified as a degradation product of benzene, which is a toxic and carcinogenic compound. (Related: Scientists shocked to discover the true toxicity of fracking fluids; it’s worse than we’ve been told.)

“High exposure to benzene during pregnancy is associated with low birth weight, an increased risk of childhood leukemia, and a greater incidence of birth defects such as spina bifida. We were therefore very concerned when we discovered high levels of muconic acid in the urine of pregnant women. Muconic acid is also a degradation product of sorbic acid, which is often used as a preservative in the food industry…A more extensive study needs to be conducted with additional measures – to test the air and drinking water, for example – to confirm or refute the results of our pilot study,” researcher Élyse Caron-Beaudoin states in a university press release.

Caron-Beaudoin is slated to conduct a second large-scale study that evaluates data from medical data of about 6,000 babies born in the region over the past 10 years. “The goal is to assess the overall health of the babies…in relation to their proximity to natural-gas well sites and the number of active wells in their environment,” Caron-Beaudoin adds.

Several health care agencies — such as the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), the National Toxicology Program (NTP), and the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) — have confirmed the cancer-causing potential of benzene. Likewise, an entry posted on the American Cancer Society website shows that long-term exposure to the harmful chemical is associated with an increased risk of anemia, low white blood cell count, and low platelet count as well as reproductive and fertility conditions.

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