UINTAH COUNTY, Utah -- The Uintah Basin has some of Utah's worst air pollution, and now some health experts think it could be increasing the infant mortality rate.
Dr. Brian Moench, President of Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment said, "In 2013 the increase was six times the national average."
He claims that Vernal's stillborn and perinatal mortality rates have sharply increased since 2010, and he believes there is a correlation to the increasingly poor air quality.
"We know there's increased oil and gas activity,” he said. “We know that the increased air pollution in the area is due to that. We know that adverse pregnancy outcomes, including infant mortality, is related to air pollution. So, putting these pieces to the puzzle together suggests that, in fact, there may be some real concern here.”
Moench said this increase was brought to his attention after local midwife, Donna Young, found an increase after searching public records like obituaries and state records.
"I think the state should do a very comprehensive evaluation of the health of the people in the area before they allow much more in the way of oil and gas permits,” he said.
Wednesday, the Tricounty Health Department held a meeting to address the issue. The focus of the meeting was to establish the scope of the study.
Public Information Officer Jeramie Tubbs said, "We will not be looking at environmental factors at this time."
She adds, "We're just going to try to determine if there is a problem and if there is, what course of action we need to take to remedy it."
Vernal resident Kaylie France attended Wednesday's meeting.
"This is what keeps Vernal thriving and the funds that Vernal produces really helps all of Utah, so I can't say I want things to shut down, but I do want us to know if there's a problem,” France said.
According to data from Dr. Moench, stillbirths went from two in 2010, to 12 in 2013. He explained that part of the concern is that we're seeing increasing numbers in this part of the state, and he said that nationally there has been a steady decline in the rate of stillborns and perinatal mortality.