A baby is born with a birth defect every four and a half minutes which affects 1 in 33 babies every year and they account for 20% of infant mortality rates. A child born with a birth defect can be heartbreaking for parents and while some defects are minor and can be easily treated, others are quite severe causing permanent disabilities or even death. There have been numerous studies done to figure out the causes of birth defects and ways to prevent them, however they continue to be a prevalent issue in our society today.
The majority of birth defects develop during the crucial early stages of pregnancy, when the baby’s organs are beginning to form. There are many factors that can contribute to the development of a birth defect such as genes passed down from parents, our environmental surroundings and a mother’s behavior during pregnancy. While we are unable to control how our bodies pass down genes, we absolutely can take steps to control our environmental surroundings as well as discontinuing risky behavior during pregnancy.
The base in North Carolina is not the only instance of contaminated drinking water leading to birth defects and cancer however. In July last year, an extensive study confirmed another long-suspected link between nitrate contaminated water and birth defects such as spina bifida, cleft palate and missing limbs in Iowa, Texas and the San Joaquin Valley of California.
Nitrates can occur naturally in the earth, however the majority of nitrate contamination is a result of crop fertilization. Nitrates happen to be one of the most widespread chemical contaminants found in our water supply today. Most publicly toxic water exposure on base supplied water sources will filter out nitrates, making their water safe to drink, but consumers who drink from privately owned wells are not protected against nitrate contamination. Drinking nitrate contaminated water while pregnant can cause serious birth defects but it can also be a risk even after birth. Babies who drink formula made with water that has a high concentrate of nitrates can suffer from blue baby syndrome. Blue baby syndrome results from decreased oxygen carrying capacity of hemoglobin which can lead to brain damage or even death.
Just recently a new concern has arisen regarding water contamination and that is fracking. Fracking is a relatively new concept to extract oil and gas; it involves drilling massive holes over layers of shale and then injecting a mixture of water, sand and chemicals at extremely high pressure into the holes to break up the shale and release the gas below. Companies that uses this method of extraction, are not required by law to release the exact chemical composition of the mixture they are shooting into the ground but tests have shown that this mixture contains numerous carcinogens and other highly toxic substances that have contaminated wells and aquifers leading to sick or dying wildlife and livestock, dead patches of earth where crops once grew and unexplained outbreaks of disease and birth defects.