Researchers link air pollution from burning off excess natural gas to preterm births for babies, with the most pronounced impacts among Hispanic families.
Living near fracking operations that frequently engage in flaring—the process of burning off excess natural gas—makes expectant parents 50 percent more likely to have a preterm birth, according to a new study.
Flaring in the Bakken shale in North Dakota. (Credit: Trudy E. Bell)
Environmental injustice<p>Johnston and colleagues found that parents in the study who identified as Latina or Hispanic were exposed to more flaring, and were more likely than White parents to see an increased risk of preterm birth.</p> <p>"I think that racial disparity is an important finding, and we need more research on the reasons behind it," Johnston said, noting that <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0146000517300745" target="_blank">prior research</a> has shown more vulnerability of women of color to effects of air pollution when looking at adverse birth outcomes.</p> <p>"It's possible that a lifetime of discrimination and social stressors are driving factors here. It could also be that Hispanic families are spending more time outside and being more exposed to pollution from flares," Johnston added.</p> <p>Hispanic communities in the region are exposed to more frequent flaring than White communities, Johnston said, which could also mean that even among the "high-flare group" in their study, Hispanic parents were being exposed to a higher number of flares every night than White counterparts.</p> <p>"Historically, much of the waste disposal in the U.S. is concentrated in communities of color," Johnston added. "One theory is that we're seeing the same pattern with flaring, which is essentially another type of waste disposal. Infrastructure investments can be made to capture excess natural gas rather than burning it off, and where those funds are invested to minimize flaring often seems to depend on the characteristics of the communities nearby."</p>
Flaring on an Ohio well pad in 2016. (Credit: Ted Auch, FracTracker Alliance)