An analysis of water samples from hydraulic fracturing, or ‘fracking,’ sites found the presence of hormone-disrupting chemicals, according to a new study published Monday in the journal Endocrinology.
“With fracking on the rise, populations may face greater health risks from increased endocrine-disrupting chemical exposure,” senior author Susan Nagel told The LA Times.
The study tested surface water and groundwater samples in Garfield County, Colorado — one county at the center of the U.S. fracking boom — and found elevated levels of endocrine-disrupting chemicals, or EDCs. The chemicals have been linked to infertility, birth defects, and cancer.
Dr. Meg Schwarzman, associate director of the Berkeley Center for Green Chemistry at UC Berkeley, told The LA Times that “even low levels of anti-estrogenic or anti-androgenic activity could potentially alter development in ways that are meaningful.”
The researchers gathered samples from five sites where there have been natural gas production spills over the last six years and compared those to control sites where there is no fracking activity. The fracking sites “exhibited more estrogenic, anti-estrogenic, or anti-androgenic activities than reference sites with limited nearby drilling operations,” leading researchers to conclude that “natural gas drilling operations may result in elevated EDC activity in surface and ground water.”
The first study to show the link between fracking and endocrine-disrupting activity, Nagel said the findings are “something the country should take seriously.” Of the 750 chemicals that have been reported to be used in fracking operations, more than 100 are known or suspected to be endocrine-disrupting, according to MedPage Today.
Fracking is an oil and gas extraction technique that involves injecting a high-pressure stream of chemicals and water into rock formations to unlock the fossil fuels that are trapped within. As fracking becomes more prevalent across the U.S. (and the world), communities are growing increasingly concerned about the threat it poses to their well-being. Last week, the Dallas City Council voted to require any gas wells to be placed at least 1,500 feet from homes, a move decried by the natural gas industry as a de facto fracking ban. A 2012 study from Duke University, however, found that 1,500 feet may not be enough distance to prevent chemical leakage into drinking water.
And in Colorado, four towns — Broomfield, Forth Collins, Lafayette, and Boulder — voted to place bans or moratoria on fracking in November. The Colorado Oil and Gas Association (COGA), the industry trade group, announced in December that they were suing three of the four towns, arguing that only the state has the authority to ban drilling, and that Coloradans can not decide to keep it out of their communities. Colorado activists like recently-elected Lafayette city councilmember Merrily Mazza, however, disagree. “Communities should have the right to decide what goes on in their communities,” Mazza told Climate Progress. “You have to start challenging this stuff.”