Hydraulic fracturing has long been a controversial issue for environmental concerns, but a new study shows that several chemicals used in the process could pose a danger to the body’s hormones and potentially cause infertility.

Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is a process used in nine out of 10 natural gas wells in the United States.  Millions of gallons of water, sand and chemicals are pumped underground to break apart rock and release gas.

In a recent study published in the journal Endocrinology, lead study author Susan C. Nagel, PhD. of the University of Missouri School of Medicine wrote that more than 700 chemicals are used in the fracking process, and many of them disturb hormone function.  With the rise of fracking, populations may face greater health risks from increased endocrine-disrupting chemical exposure.

For the study, researchers analyzed 12 chemicals that were either known or suspected to be used in fracking.  These chemicals are often grouped together as endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs).  Exposure to EDCs has previously been linked to cancer, birth defects and infertility.  Therefore, the study decided to look at how ECDs affect male and female hormones.

Researchers gathered data from surface and ground water samples via drilling spills or accidents in Garfield County, Co. and from drilling-sparse areas without spills in the same county and Boone County, Mo.  Samples gathered from the drilling spill sites contained more EDC activity.  It was found that high levels of EDC appear to affect how the human body reacts to androgens.

The study notes that fracking is exempt from federal regulations to protect water quality, but spills associated with natural gas drilling can contaminate surface, ground and drinking water.  Nagel said this could raise the risk of reproductive, metabolic, neurological and other diseases, especially in children exposed to EDCs.

About The Author

Aneri Pattani is a Blast correspondent and journalism student at Northeastern University

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