Results of study into Uintah Basin stillbirths reveal main birth defect risks

Posted at 12:05 PM, Mar 18, 2015
and last updated 2015-03-18 23:00:47-04

SALT LAKE CITY – In June of 2013, the Department of Health was made aware of a possible increase in still born babies in Daggett, Duchesne and Uintah counties.

”'For the first four or five years of the trend, they were well below the state average, and the last year of the trend, they popped up above the state average,” said Tom Hudachko from the Utah Department of Health.

The tri-county region has a large oil and gas industry. While the area is known to have high levels of pollution, the study did not say if pollution was the factor, or even a factor, that led to the rise in still births.

Dr. Brian Moench, a prominent clear air advocate, says he believes pollution is to blame and hopes state agencies will step in to remedy the problem.

“They have very high levels of VOC’s - volatile organic compounds,” Moench said. “In fact, a recent study over the Uintah basin showed they had as many VOC’s as what you would expect from 100 million cars. That’s 8 times more cars than exist in the Los Angeles basin.'

Moench says medical studies show air quality can negatively impact the outcome of a woman’s pregnancy.

“To see evidence of that in the Uintah basin certainly is consistent with all this other research,” Moench said.

Hudachko says they plan to continue monitoring the rate of stillbirths over the next few years to see if the trend continues.

“We’d want to come back in the next couple of years and do further study and determine is that one year just an outlier?” he said. “Is it just a variation, or is actually the start of a trend where stillbirths are still above the state average? We don't know that yet.”

The study does confirm a few main causes for abnormal birth outcomes in the area.

Officials said the main risk factors are diabetic mothers, mothers who smoked while pregnant and poor access to prenatal care.