Researchers have found that exposure to flaring at oil and gas production sites is linked to an increase in premature birth.
The study examined 23,487 live births to women residing within the Eagle Ford Shale geological formation in Texas between 2012 to 2015. The site is one the most productive oil and gas regions in the country.
“Our study finds that living near flaring is harmful to pregnant women and babies,” said Jill Johnston, an environmental health scientist at Keck School of Medicine of University of Southern California.
Of the births analyzed by researchers, 10.6% were preterm, occurring before week 37 of the pregnancy.
Women who lived within three miles of a high number of oil and gas wells also had a greater chance of a premature birth than mothers who did not live near wells. On average, their babies were also born weighing seven ounces lighter.
About 55% of the women in this study identified as Hispanic or Latina. The chance of premature birth among Hispanic women exposed to large levels of flaring was greater than that of non-Hispanic White women.
Researchers said this also suggests that, in addition to flaring, other exposures linked to gas and oil wells may also be negatively affecting pregnancy.
Flares have been shown to release chemicals such as benzene, carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides and black carbon. Many of these pollutants have been associated with an increased risk of preterm birth and reduced birthweight.