UTSPH Researchers Investigate Fracking’s Effect on Pregnancy

Kristina Whitworth, Ph.D.

Kristina Whitworth, Ph.D.

Researchers at The University of Texas School of Public Health recently received funding from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) to investigate how fracking affects perinatal health. The R03 award, totaling $100,000, will be distributed over the course of two years.

The NIEHS grant funds a retrospective birth cohort study to examine the relationship between maternal residential proximity to shale gas extraction drilling activities and adverse pregnancy outcomes among women living around the Barnett Shale play, near Dallas/Fort Worth, Texas.

“Although there are overwhelming environmental and public health concerns related to air and water pollution resulting from shale gas extraction drilling activities, few systematic investigations of adverse health effects among residents in communities near shale gas extraction wells exist,” said Kristina Walker Whitworth, Ph.D., assistant professor of Epidemiology, Human Genetics & Environmental Sciences at the School of Public Health’s San Antonio Regional Campus and a member of the School’s Southwest Center for Occupational and Environmental Health (SWCOEH).

Elaine Symanski, Ph.D., SWCOEH director, is the study’s co-investigator.

As part of this effort, Whitworth and Symanski will examine the geographic distribution of shale gas extraction wells in the Barnett Shale and examine associations between maternal residential proximity to shale gas extraction drilling activity and several pregnancy outcomes, including birth weight, preterm birth, small-for-gestational age, and fetal loss. This study addresses public concerns regarding potential perinatal health hazards experienced by women in communities near shale gas extraction drilling sites.

Study results may also provide direction for future comprehensive investigations of specific exposures experienced by individuals living in communities near the Barnett Shale.