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New Study: Babies near Gas Wells More Likely to Have Birth Defects

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Women who live near natural gas wells in rural Colorado are more likely to have babies with neural tube and congenital heart defects, according to a new study.

As natural gas extraction soars in the United States, the findings add to a growing concern by many activists and residents about the potential for health effects from the air pollutants.

Researchers from the Colorado School of Public Health analyzed birth defects among nearly 125,000 births in Colorado towns with fewer than 50,000 people between 1996 and 2009, examining how close the mothers lived to natural gas wells.

Babies born to mothers living in areas with the highest density of wells - more than 125 wells per mile - were more than twice as likely to have neural tube defects than those living with no wells within a 10-mile radius, according to the study published Tuesday. Children in those areas also had a 38 percent greater risk of congenital heart defects than those with no wells.

Both types of birth defects were fairly rare, occurring in a small percentage of births, but they can cause serious health effects. The researchers did not find a significant association between gas wells and other effects, including oral cleft defects, preterm births and low birth weight.