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The New York Times interviewed Lara Cushing, associate professor of environmental health sciences at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health, who co-led a study that found the risk of premature births is 50% higher for mothers near natural gas flaring in Texas’ Eagle Ford Shale oil and gas region.
Across the United States, gas flares light the night skies over oil and gas fields — visible symbols of the country’s energy boom. They also emit greenhouse gases, making them symbols of climate change that many environmental groups would like to see snuffed out.
Now, a new study points to another problem: Pregnant women who lived near areas where flaring is common had 50 percent greater odds of giving birth prematurely than those who did not. These births occurred before 37 weeks of gestation, when incomplete development raises a baby’s chance of numerous disorders, even death.
“It’s on par with the increased risk you see for women who smoke,” said Lara Cushing, an assistant professor of environmental health sciences at the University of California, Los Angeles, and lead author of the study. Unlike smoking, however, “it’s not really something you can do much about on an individual level,” she said.