News Feature | October 29, 2015

New Study: Fracking Cocktail May Lower Sperm Count

Sara Jerome

By Sara Jerome,

Fracking chemicals may pose a threat to male reproductive health, according to a new study published this month in the scholarly journal Endocrinology.

“Our results suggest possible adverse developmental and reproductive health outcomes in humans and animals exposed to potential environmentally relevant levels of oil and gas operation chemicals,” the study said.

The research focused on how mice react when exposed before birth to chemicals used during fracking and at other phases of natural gas production, The Huffington Post reported. “Researchers found that male mice exposed in the womb to minute levels of the mixture developed enlarged testes and decreased sperm counts later in life.”

The scientists tested 24 chemicals including benzene, toluene, and bisphenol A. The concoction was “administered to mice throughout the course of their pregnancy so that researchers could observe the effects on their male babies. The mixture mirrored chemical levels that human are likely exposed to from wastewater or drinking water contaminated with fracking fluids.”

The researchers found that 23 of the chemicals disrupted the natural functions of estrogens, androgens, and other hormones. That included functions vital to healthy development of sex organs and fertility, the report said.

The study's lead author, University of Missouri professor Susan Nagel, explained the significance of the results in a statement.

"This study is the first to demonstrate that [endocrine-disrupting chemicals or EDCs] commonly used in fracking, at levels realistic for human and animal exposure in these regions, can have an adverse effect on the reproductive health of mice," she said. "These findings may have implications for the fertility of men living in regions with dense oil and/or natural gas production."

Here’s how the study was carried out:

To bypass trade secrets that allow oil and gas companies to refrain from disclosing fracking chemicals, researchers tested wastewater samples from fracking sites in Garfield County, Colorado. Using the 16 chemicals they identified in those samples, in addition to existing literature on fracking, Nagel and her team created a mixture of 23 different fracking chemicals.

Environmentalists claim that fracking pollutes tap water resources, but authorities have questioned that notion in recent months. Fracking supporters celebrated the EPA’s announcement in June that it “did not find evidence that these mechanisms have led to widespread, systemic impacts on drinking water resources in the United States.”

The energy industry says fracking is safe, but environmentalists say fracking does pose a contamination threat. After the EPA announcement, many criticized the research that supported the decision.

“This study’s main finding flies in the face of fracking’s dangerous reality,” said Rachel Richardson, director of Environment America’s Stop Drilling program, per Politico. “The fact is, dirty drilling has caused documented, widespread water contamination across the country.”

For all of our fracking coverage, visit Water Online’s Produced Water Treatment Solutions Center.