Chemicals used in the process of hydraulic fracturing can disrupt the body’s normal hormone function according to new research published recently in the Journal of Endocrinology.
The study looked at Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals (EDCs) involved in drilling. Results showed that hormone disrupting activity was higher in water samples taken from drill sites where spills had occurred, compared to sites where little or no drilling had occurred.
At certain levels of exposure, EDCs have been associated with cancer and infertility in adults.
Lead author of the report, Susan Nagel, says their study didn’t assess whether the levels at hydrofracking sites could be hazardous. But lab tests show that EDCs can be dangerous, especially for children, she says.
“They are even more sensitive to lower levels and for more permanent types of effects, often on decreased fertility and increased risk of cancer, etcetera,” Nagel said.
Nagel and her team looked at 12 known fracking chemicals in the lab, and determined that 11 of them could interfere with particular female and male hormone receptors known as estrogen and androgen.
They then tested water samples from spill sites in fracking-dense areas of Colorado. Results showed these sites had roughly double the hormone disrupting activity than the areas tested as controls.
“I’m not a public policy expert, and I do not know all the pieces of the fracking story," Nagel said. "However, I do think it’s cause for concern that we do see this increased level of endocrine disrupting activity. It does suggest that when spills happen, we are contaminating water."
She says water samples from the Colorado River were also analyzed as part of their research and they showed moderate levels of EDCs. She says this indicates that contamination from spills at fracking sites can spread to other water sources.
Nagel admits there are limitations to the study. The team didn’t test for specific chemicals in the water samples, just overall levels of EDCs.
But, she says EDCs have a cumulative effect, meaning that if several chemicals present are endocrine disrupting, there will be increased activity. And, Nagel says there’s a need to look at the impacts of fracking chemicals cumulatively, rather than individually.
“While we do know hundreds of chemicals that are involved in fracking, chemical components are proprietary," Nagel said. "So we don’t know all of the chemicals used, but we absolutely need to look at mixtures and their biological activity. I really do hope that this research can inform public policy, can inform future research. I don’t think we know enough yet to know the impact on people.”
EDCs are found in a range of regular household products and substances, but generally at levels too low to be harmful.