A study has found that 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.
In a bid to study the health impacts related to living near fracking sites where contaminants, including volatile organic compounds, are released, researchers at the Universite de Montreal Public Health Research Institute studied a group of pregnant women who live in the area.
Fracking is the process of drilling down into the earth before a high-pressure water mixture is directed at the rock to release the gas inside.
High concentrations of muconic acid – a degradation product of benzene (a volatile, toxic and carcinogenic compound) – were detected in the urine of 29 pregnant women who participated in the pilot study.Their median concentration of muconic acid was approximately 3.5 times higher in these women than in the general Canadian population.
Marc-Andre Verner, the lead researcher on the study said, “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.”
It should be noted that there are multiple routes of exposure to benzene, including inhaling cigarette smoke, filling your car’s gas tank, driving, and drinking benzene-contaminated water.