Utah Health Department Confirms Rise in Uintah Basin Stillbirths | KUER 90.1

Utah Health Department Confirms Rise in Uintah Basin Stillbirths

Mar 18, 2015

Rock Point Cemetery in Maeser where some of the Uintah County babies who died in 2013 are buried.
Credit Andrea Smardon

Utah Department of Health officials released a study this week that shows increased rates of stillbirths in the Uintah Basin. But some local physicians are criticizing the study for not going deep enough.

After a Vernal midwife noticed a growing trend of stillbirths in her community, officials from the local TriCounty Health Department asked the Utah Department of Health to perform the study. Data compilations dating back to 1991 show sporadic increases and decreases of babies that were born abnormally small or who died in their first year of infancy. State health department spokesman Tom Hudachko says the report also confirmed a spike in stillbirths in Uintah, Daggett and Duchesne Counties.

“Throughout the course of the study timeframe, stillbirths had always been below the state average. In 2008, even though they were still below the state average, they started to tick upward. And by the 2012-2013 timeframe, they had actually exceeded the state average,” Hudachko says.

But the study only identified risk factors such as diabetes or tobacco use during pregnancy in reference to what might be causing the stillbirths and small babies. Brian Moench is President of Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment. He says the reason for doing the research in the first place was to trace a possible connection between pregnancy outcomes and the area’s high air pollution. 

“There are hundreds of medical studies, published in the last, most of them, seven to eight years, that clearly show a strong connection between air pollution of multiple types and adverse pregnancy outcomes,” he says.

Moench says the Utah Department of Health study makes no mention of air pollution or any effort to connect it to the pregnancy outcomes. The decision to further investigate the effects of the Uintah Basin’s air pollution on pregnancy outcomes would lie with the TriCounty Health department.