British Columbia

Pilot study looks at health effects of fracking on pregnant women in northeast B.C.

A small pilot study on the health risks fracking poses to pregnant women in northeast B.C. has raised "a little red flag," according to project lead Élyse Caron-Beaudoin of the Université de Montréal.

'It's like we raised a little red flag,' says lead researcher

Researchers are conducting a small pilot study on the potential health risks fracking may pose to pregnant women in northeast B.C. (Brennan Linsley/The Associated Press)

A small pilot study looking at the potential health risks fracking may pose to pregnant women in northeast B.C. has raised "a little red flag," according to the project's lead researcher.

However, Élyse Caron-Beaudoin of the Université de Montréal, said more research is needed before researchers can draw conclusions.

The pilot study was published in Environment International.

Over the course of five days, Caron-Beaudoin's team collected urine samples from 29 pregnant women living in the Peace River Valley, an area with hundreds of actives gas wells. 

The team measured the levels of two byproducts of benzene, a carcinogen linked to health problems including cancer.

'Surprised and not surprised'

One of the byproducts was found at slightly higher-than-normal levels compared to the Canadian population, but the other occurred at rates 3.5 times that.

For the 15 Indigenous women who took part in the study, the rate was six times higher than the general Canadian population. 

"We were surprised and not surprised," Caron-Beaudoin said, because studies from the United States had also found elevated levels of the markers in pregnant women near gas wells, but not at rates quite as high.

However, she also emphasized the small sample size, which meant the study should only be considered exploratory rather than conclusive.

"It's like we raised a little red flag and 'Hm, maybe we should look into that,'" she said. 

"But we really need funding. So we're working hard on that."

With files from George Baker.

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