Study Finds Hormone-Disrupting Chemicals in Water Near Fracking Sites
Written by James P. Nevin
Recently, the Endocrinology journal performed a study of the water near hydraulic fracturing site in Colorado, finding substances linked to a number of health concerns.
In Colorado, water samples from sites where hydraulic fracturing was used to extract natural gas, showed the presence of a number of chemicals that have been linked to infertility, birth defects, and cancer. The study also found elevated levels of the hormone-disrupting chemicals in the Colorado River, where wastewater released during accidental spills at nearby wells could end up. Water tested from sites where no fracking activity also revealed the activity of endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs). The study found that the levels from these control sites were lower than places with direct links to fracking.
Susan Nagel, the senior author from the study who investigates the health effects of estrogen at the University of Missouri School of Medicine, states that "with fracking on the rise, populations may face greater health risks from increased endocrine-disrupting chemical exposure."
Fracking, is the process where millions of gallons of chemical-laced water and sand are injected deep underground to crack shale formations to unlock oil and gas. It is exempt from some regulations that are part of the Safe Drinking Water Act, and even more disturbingly, energy companies do not have to disclose the chemicals they use if they consider the information a trade secret.
Exposure to EDCs pose the most risk for fetuses, babies, and young children, according to scientists. The World Health Organization issued a report last year that endocrine-related illnesses are on the rise worldwide.
As part of the study, Nagel and her colleagues tested samples of surface water and groundwater from Garfield County, Colorado, which has approximately 10,000 wells, and is a center of oil and gas development driven by fracking. The research team gathered multiple water samples from five natural gas sites where fracking wastewater has spilled over the last six years. They tested for the presence of four different classes of EDCs, and out of 39 water samples collected at the five drilling sites: 89% showed estrogenic properties, 41% were anti-estrogenic, 12% androgenic, and 46% were anti-androgenic. The samples were not tested for specific fracking chemicals or for concentrations of chemicals.
In contrast, water from control sites in Colorado and Missouri where there is no fracking showed some EDC activity, but the levels were lower than water samples taken near fracking sites in Garfield County. The researchers found that samples from the Colorado River showed the presence of more EDC activity than the control samples.
The researchers also conducted laboratory analyses of 12 fracking chemicals used in Colorado to extract oil and gas. The chemicals were found to be endocrine disrupters that could interfere with human sex hormones.
Independent scientists who reviewed the study stated that the researchers were cautious with their conclusions and that the study does not even state fracking spills contaminated surface and groundwater. It only shows a correlation between the Garfield County spill sites and greater concentration of EDCs in the water.
Currently, fracking's effects on public health is not well known, and research is only in its early phase. According to Nagel and other scientists, the study is one of the first steps in this research and warrants follow-up work.