Birth Defects and Unconventional Natural Gas Developments in Texas, 1999-2011


Unconventional natural gas developments (UNGD) may release air and water pollutants into the environment, potentially increasing the risk of birth defects. We conducted a case-control study evaluating 52,955 cases with birth defects and 642,399 controls born between 1999 to 2011 to investigate the relationship between UNGD exposure and the risk of gastroschisis, congenital heart defects (CHD), neural tube defects (NTDs), and orofacial clefts in Texas. We calculated UNGD densities (number of UNGDs per area) within 1, 3, and 7.5 km of maternal address at birth and categorized exposure by density tertiles. For CHD subtypes with large case numbers, we also performed time-stratified analyses to examine temporal trends. We calculated adjusted odds ratios (aOR) and 95% confidence intervals (CI) for the association with UNGD exposure, accounting for maternal characteristics and neighborhood factors. We also included a bivariable smooth of geocoded maternal location in an additive model to account for unmeasured spatially varying risk factors. Positive associations were observed between the highest tertile of UNGD density within 1 km of maternal address and risk of anencephaly (aOR: 2.44, 95% CI: 1.55, 3.86), spina bifida (aOR: 2.09, 95% CI: 1.47, 2.99), gastroschisis among older mothers (aOR: 3.19, 95% CI: 1.77, 5.73), aortic valve stenosis (aOR: 1.90, 95% CI: 1.33, 2.71), hypoplastic left heart syndrome (aOR: 2.00, 95% CI: 1.39, 2.86), and pulmonary valve atresia or stenosis (aOR: 1.36, 95% CI: 1.10, 1.66). For CHD subtypes, results did not differ substantially by distance from maternal address or when residual confounding was considered, except for atrial septal defects. We did not observe associations with orofacial clefts. Our results suggest that UNGDs were associated with some CHDs and possibly NTDs. In addition, we identified temporal trends and observed presence of spatial residual confounding for some CHDs.

Authors: Ian W Tang, Peter H Langlois, Verónica M Vieira
; Full Source: Environmental research 2020 Nov 24;110511. doi: 10.1016/j.envres.2020.110511.