Researchers Believe Water Contaminated By Fracking Harmed Foals

Dysphagia, a birth defect that allows foals to inhale milk as they suckle occurs in less than 1 percent of foals each year. A breeder who had an abnormally high amount of dysphagic foals between 2014 and 2016 engaged researchers to determine why 17 of 65 foals were born with the condition on one farm in Pennsylvania.

Drs. Kathleen Mullen, Brianna Rivera, Lane Tidwell, Kim Anderson, Renata Ivanek and Dorothy Ainsworth linked the condition to a mare’s ingestion of water contaminated with polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). The PAHs most likely from a fracking operation for natural gas located 1 mile from the farm.  Affected foals had a strong suckle reflect and subdued, altered mental activity.

Mares on the affected Pennsylvania farm either spent their entire gestation on the farm or were shipped to the farm late in their gestation to deliver on the Pennsylvania farm. Mares that later foaled in New York never had another abnormal foal, even if they lived on the Pennsylvania property for the first half of their gestation. Scientists found that the odds of a foal being dysphagic increased with the number of months each pregnant mare spent on the Pennsylvania farm.

Once water filtration equipment was installed, the milk aspiration issue was eliminated, clearly linking dysphagia with something in the water. The scientists spent 21 months systemically eliminating known causes of dysphagia and then began comprehensive toxicological investigations of biological and environmental samples from both the Pennsylvania and New York farms. They analyzed blood and tissue samples of mares and foals, as well as completed physical exams. They also tested the soil, water and feed at both farms.

The notable difference in samples between the two farms was found in the well water; PAHs were higher in the Pennsylvania farm well water than they were on the New York farm. The team noted that PAHs have been identified in both water and air near fracking wells in other studies.

The research team notes that the expansion of fracking is outpacing scientific understanding of its impacts on health and the environment. There were 632 chemicals reported to be used in fracking operations between 2005 and 2009; 353 of these chemicals are known to cause adverse health effects.

They recommend more studies to establish if any long-term health effects other than dysphagia for fetuses exists in humans and animals exposed to fracking. The scientists note that horses can serve as sentinels for the human risks associated with fracking.

Read more at HorseTalk.

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