Investigation finds no common factor in Garfield County birth defects |

Investigation finds no common factor in Garfield County birth defects

John Stroud
Glenwood Springs Post Independent

DENVER — A state health department investigation into an unusual increase in early pregnancy fetal anomalies detected by ultrasounds and reported by two Glenwood Springs prenatal clinics late last year has found no common underlying cause.

“Our investigation looked at each reported case and concluded they are not linked to any common risk factors,” said Dr. Larry Wolk, executive director and chief medical officer for the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, in news release issued Friday afternoon.

The investigation into 22 separate cases included taking a look at a dozen factors for the mothers involved, including proximity to active oil and gas wells, which had been the source of much speculation as a possible cause in the weeks after the case was turned over to the state health department in March.

According to the news release, department epidemiologists looked at more than a dozen factors, including each mother’s place of conception and current address; drinking water source (municipal and well); proximity to active oil and gas wells; proximity to each other; the age, health, and family history of the mothers; the mother’s use of medications, supplements, tobacco, alcohol, caffeine and other substances; each mother’s prior pregnancies and deliveries; and ethnicity.

“While there were different risk factors identified for individual cases, no pattern emerged to suggest a common risk factor for the reported anomalies,” according to the release.

The cases were reported by Women’s Health and A Woman’s Place, both located in Glenwood Springs. However, the mothers resided in a wide geographic area stretching from Carbondale to Rifle, according to information passed along to the health department by Valley View Hospital, which works closely with the two clinics.

The cases were “not isolated in any single community,” according to the department news release.

The state health department was asked to investigate due to what local health officials indicated was an unusually high number of prenatal ultrasounds showing very rare congenital anomalies. The cases were reported in late 2013.

State health officials mainly track birth defects after children are born.

“The study was unique in that it looked at unborn children with birth defects detected by ultrasound early in pregnancy,” according to the release, which was based on a full 11-page report.

Therefore, health department officials said a number of additional factors should be considered, including the limitations of the ultrasound as a diagnostic tool, observer variability, and the timing of the ultrasound.

“It is possible one of these variables may have accounted for an impression that there is a higher number of anomalies,” the release stated. “In addition, because prenatal ultrasounds are not typically monitored by the state, there is no way to know if these cases represent a higher number than normal.”

There was also no single or common type of birth anomaly reported, the report also clarified. Types of anomalies varied and included cardiac anomalies, commonly diagnosed autosomal trisomies, other suspected chromosomal anomalies and molar pregnancies, the report indicated.

“There is no state or federal registry of pre-birth anomalies that would show whether the cases referred to the department are greater or less than the number of cases occurring in the general population,” Wolk said in the release. “While some may have expected the investigation would identify one or two risk factors that link these cases, no such link was found.

“It is natural to look at even a single birth anomaly and ask why,” he said. “But sadly, birth anomalies do occur.”

The full report can be found under the “Hot Topics” section of the department’s webpage, at, then click on Glenwood Springs Prenatal Report.

A followup story will appear in the Saturday Post Independent and online.

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