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Pilot study finds pregnant women in Dawson Creek and Chetwynd with signs of elevated carcinogen levels

A Google Streetview photo of the Chetwynd Primary Care Clinic, where 15 of the study's 30 participants were recruited.
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MONTREAL, Q.C. — A pilot study by a group of postdoctoral fellows at the Université de Montréal found that 30 pregnant women in Dawson Creek and Chetwynd had been exposed to elevated levels of two volatile carcinogenic organic compounds.

The study, which will appear in the January edition of Environmental International, recruited 15 pregnant women in each community from September to November of 2016 during prenatal follow-up appointments. The study’s participants submitted urine samples from five consecutive days, which were analyzed for the presence of metabolites for exposure to the chemicals benzene and toluene.

Map of Chetwynd and Dawson Creek areas with hydraulic fracturing wells (circles) in 2007 (Open Data from BC Oil and Gas Commission).

The study said that both of those compounds have been reported to be released during fracking operations, of which there are many in the region. The study said that both communities are located in proximity to between 10 and 150 active gas wells, while Chetwynd is also located downwind of Enbridge’s Pine River Gas Plant.

According to the study’s findings, the samples from both communities found that levels of s-phenylmercapturic acid (S-PMA), a benzene metabolite, were roughly the same as those found in pregnant women in the general Canadian population. However, the study found that the women’s levels of another benzene metabolite, trans,trans muconic acid (t,t-MA), were much higher.

The 15 pregnant women from Dawson Creek participating in the study had levels of t,t MA that were 3.4 times the national average, while those from Chetwynd had tot MA levels that were 5.3 times the national average. Five of the 29 women that completed the study had t,t-MA levels higher than the biological exposure index proposed by the American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists.

Two of the respondents were reportedly smokers, while four in total reported exposure to secondhand smoke during their pregnancy. 43.3 percent of the study’s subjects self-identified as Indigenous, 70 percent used tap water as their drinking water source, and 20 percent worked in an industrial setting. The study’s data showed that the elevated levels of benzene exposure were higher in Indigenous women participating in the study, and those from low-income households.

In its conclusion, the study said that the pregnant women were exposed to elevated levels of benzene in Dawson Creek and Chetwynd. The study said that though the sample size was small, more testing needs to be done to determine if those elevated levels of organic compounds were caused by fracking in the area.

The study can be viewed in its entirety below.

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