News Feature | December 30, 2013

Does Fracking Seep Hormone Disrupting Chemicals Into Water?

Sara Jerome

By Sara Jerome


A new study adds fodder to the debate over whether fracking contaminates ground and surface water. 

"Water samples collected at Colorado sites where hydraulic fracturing was used to extract natural gas show the presence of chemicals that have been linked to infertility, birth defects and cancer," the Los Angeles Times reported

The study, published in the journal Endocrinology, found dangers created by natural gas drilling operations.

"The majority of water samples collected from sites in a drilling-dense region of Colorado exhibited more estrogenic, anti-estrogenic, or anti-androgenic activities than reference sites with limited nearby drilling operations. Our data suggest that natural gas drilling operations may result in elevated Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals (EDC) activity in surface and ground water," the study said. 

The government explains the impact of EDCs in EPA literature. "Disruption of the endocrine system can occur in various ways. Some chemicals mimic a natural hormone, fooling the body into over-responding to the stimulus (e.g., a growth hormone that results in increased muscle mass), or responding at inappropriate times (e.g., producing insulin when it is not needed)," the agency said.  

Other EDCs "block the effects of a hormone from certain receptors (e.g. growth hormones required for normal development)," the agency said. 

Study author Susan Nagel explained to the Times that the findings show potential public health risks caused by fracking. "With fracking on the rise, populations may face greater health risks from increased endocrine-disrupting chemical exposure," she said.

The authors tested for four specific chemicals. They tested surface and groundwater from Garfield County, CO, "which, with its approximately 10,000 wells, is a center of oil and gas development driven by fracking. The research team gathered multiple water samples at five natural gas sites where spills of fracking wastewater had occurred over the last six years," the news report said. 

The team tested for four EDCs. 

"Out of 39 water samples collected at five drilling sites, 89 percent showed estrogenic properties, 41 percent were anti-estrogenic, 12 percent were androgenic and 46% were anti-androgenic, according to the report. The samples were not tested for specific fracking chemicals or for concentrations of chemicals," the report said. 

"I'm not an alarmist about this, but it is something the country should take seriously," Nagel said.

Katie Brown, a spokeswoman with the industry advocacy group Energy In Depth, told the Times the study is "inflammatory" and dismissed it. The group also released a lengthy response to the study. The group said the study exaggerates the amount of chemicals used during fracking. 

For previous fracking coverage on Water Online, click here.

Image credit: “CSG drill rig, Pilliga Forest, July 2011," © 2011 lockthegate, used under an Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic license:

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