Drinking water vulnerability and neonatal health outcomes in relation to oil and gas production in the Appalachian Basin

EPA Grant Number: CR839249
Title: Drinking water vulnerability and neonatal health outcomes in relation to oil and gas production in the Appalachian Basin
Investigators: Deziel, Nicole Cardello , Bell, Michelle L. , Ma, Xiaomei , Plata, Desiree , Saiers, James E. , Warren, Joshua
Institution: Yale University
EPA Project Officer: Hahn, Intaek
Project Period: August 7, 2017 through August 6, 2020
Project Amount: $1,998,515
RFA: Oil and Gas Development in the Appalachian Basin (2016) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: Water , Health


Quantitative data and models describing the complex inter-relationships between unconventional oil and gas (UO&G) activity, water quality, human exposures, and health effects are scarce, presenting challenges to decision-makers responsible for protecting human health. Researchers propose to address these limitations by creating a framework for making quantitative inferences on neonatal health impacts from UO&G-associated activities in the Appalachian Basin.


The overarching hypothesis is that predictions of drinking-water vulnerability in proximity to maternal residence during critical windows of prenatal development are correlated with increased risk of adverse birth outcomes. This hypothesis will be tested by addressing the following three objectives: 1) develop a statistical vulnerability index model to more accurately estimate drinking-water susceptibility to UO&G activities in the Appalachian Basin, 2) verify the utility of the vulnerability index model by comparing predictions with water-quality measurements made using novel analytical techniques capable of resolving chemical fingerprints of UO&G-related contamination, and 3) investigate the association between exposure to UO&G-related water contaminants and adverse neonatal outcomes in Pennsylvania (PA) and Ohio (OH) using our vulnerability index as a proxy for exposure, while also accounting for other UO&G stressors and socioeconomic disadvantage.


Researchers will formulate a model that predicts the spatiotemporal variability in groundwater vulnerability to UO&G-associated chemicals. This statistical model will be trained with calculations of a physically based, hydrologic model that simulates the probability of overlap between capture zones of drinking-water wells and UO&G contaminant sources in Susquehanna County, PA and Belmont County, OH. Once calibrated, the resultant vulnerability index model will be tested against water-quality data collected in a large-scale sampling campaign of 500 homes across four additional PA and OH counties. Water samples will be analyzed for a broad range of inorganic and organic compounds, including UO&G-related contaminants that cannot be detected by conventional analytical techniques. Our studies will culminate with a case-control study of 8,000 neonates in PA and OH to determine whether exposure to UO&G contaminants (as estimated by our vulnerability index model) is associated with changes in the incidence of adverse birth outcomes (low birthweight, preterm birth, small-for-gestational age, and birth defects).

Expected Results:

Our vulnerability index model will provide a novel tool for policymakers, public health officials, and researchers to prioritize monitoring, allocation of resources, and inform human health/exposure studies. Our field data on the occurrence of UO&G-relevant contaminants in drinking water will be unprecedented in terms of its spatial coverage. We will provide improved estimates of associations between predicted exposure to water contaminants and neonatal health outcomes that will address critical questions about whether UO&G is associated with adverse human developmental and teratogenic effects. The research framework can be applied in future analyses of the impact of water contaminants on health outcomes in other geographic regions.

Supplemental Keywords:

drinking water, vulnerability index, epidemiology, environmental chemistry, environmental exposures, fate and transport, children’s health, socioeconomic stressors, risk assessment;