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Chemicals from Fracking Could Harm Hormone Functions

Update Date: Dec 16, 2013 02:02 PM EST

Induced hydraulic fracturing, more commonly known as fracking, is a procedure often used to gather natural gas. The process involves drilling and injecting fluid at a high pressure so that shale rocks crack and release natural gas. Over the years, fracking has become a highly controversial method of getting oil and gas due to environmental concerns. Opponents of fracking now have another reason to support their cause. According to a new study, researchers report that the chemicals used in fracking could be harmful to the body's hormones.

"More than 700 chemicals are used in the fracking process, and many of them disturb hormone function," said one of the study's authors, Susan C. Nagel, PhD, of the University of Missouri School of Medicine. "With fracking on the rise, populations may face greater health risks from increased endocrine-disrupting chemical exposure."

For this study, the research team analyzed 12 chemicals that were either known or suspected chemicals used in fracking. These chemicals are often grouped as endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs), which can disrupt the normal function of the endocrine system. Exposure to EDCs has been tied to cancer, birth defects and infertility. In order to study how EDCs affect female and male hormones, the researchers first gathered surface and ground water samples from drilling spills or accidents Garfield County, CO and from drilling-sparse areas without spills in the same county and in Boone County, MO. Garfield county has over 10,000 active natural gas wells.

The researchers reported that the samples gathered from the drilling spill sites contained more EDC activity than samples from the control sites without drilling spills. The team found that the high levels of EDC appear to affect how the human body reacted androgens, which is a group of hormones that include testosterone and estrogen.

"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. "We found more endocrine-disrupting activity in the water close to drilling locations that had experienced spills than at control sites. This could raise the risk of reproductive, metabolic, neurological and other diseases, especially in children who are exposed to EDCs."

The study was published in Endocrinology.

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