Relève étoile Jacques-Genest April 2018

Élyse Caron-Beaudoin

Postdoctoral fellow in Environmental Health/Occupational Health
Université de Montréal

Award-winning publication: Gestational exposure to volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in Northeastern British Columbia, Canada: A pilot study

Published in: Environment International


In Peace River Valley, in northeastern British Columbia, hydraulic fracturing—or fracking—operations to recover natural gas are being carried out at an unrelenting pace. The potential human health impacts of contaminants such as benzene, which is released during gas development, are raising concerns among members of local communities. Élyse Caron-Beaudoin and her team assessed the potential exposure to the toxic liquid of 30 pregnant women from Peace River Valley by measuring two benzene metabolites in their urine. The findings revealed that the women's median urinary level of one of the metabolites was 3.5 times higher than the level of the general Canadian population and even more elevated in the Indigenous women who took part in the study. These data are worrisome since prenatal exposure to compounds such as benzene has been linked to an increased risk of childhood leukemia and a higher prevalence of low birth weight. In addition, a recent study showed that the proximity and density of fracking wells were linked to a higher incidence of neural tube defects and congenital heart disease. It is therefore critical to assess gestational exposure to contaminants released by gas development, especially among Indigenous women, who already face social and health inequities.