Chemicals in the fluid used in the hydraulic fracturing—fracking—gas drilling technique may disrupt the functioning of human hormones and lead to increased risk of infertility, cancer, and other health problems, new research finds.
The results of a new study, carried out by the Endocrine Society and published in the journal Endocrinology, suggest that endrocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs), which can interfere with the body’s normal hormonal functions, are found in fracking fluid, Aljazeera America reports. According to co-author Susan C. Nagel, a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Missouri School of Medicine, “More than 700 chemicals are used in the fracking process, and many of them disturb hormone function.” EDCs, she said, could “raise the risk of reproductive, metabolic, neurological and other diseases, especially in children who are exposed” to them.
During fracking, large amounts of highly pressurized water and chemicals are injected underground to break apart the shale layer and release natural gas and oil. Fracking activities have increased in recent years, and proponents of the technique see it as a route to greater energy independence and a boost to the United States economy, according to Aljazeera America. Environmentalists point to the pollution risks in the process itself and say not enough is known about the chemicals used. The impact on local water supplies and the proper disposal of wastewater are also concerns.
For the study, the researchers examined surface and ground water samples in sites around Garfield County, Colorado—an area with more than 10,000 active natural gas wells—that had experienced spills or other drilling accidents. These samples were compared to samples from Boone County, Missouri, an area with low levels of drilling and no known spills, according to Aljazeera America. The researchers looked at 12 known or suspected EDCs. Water samples from drilling sites had higher levels of EDCs, and these could interfere with the body’s response to such hormones as testosterone and estrogen, both related to reproduction. Minimal EDC activity was recorded at sites without spills.
With fracking on the rise throughout the U.S., there is greater risk of EDC exposure, Nagel said, and this is troubling, according to Aljazeera America.