Endocrine-disrupting chemicals found at fracking sites

Kassotis CD. Endocrinology. 2013;doi:10.1210/en.2013-1697.

  • December 19, 2013

A natural gas and oil drilling technique known as hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, increases the use of chemicals that have been deemed endocrine disruptors by The Endocrine Society. These endocrine-disrupting chemicals have been linked to birth defects and infertility discovered near drilling sites, according to findings in a recent report published in Endocrinology.

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

Researchers collected water and ground samples and measured for estrogen and androgen receptor activities using reporter gene assays in human cell lines. Of the 39 unique water samples collected in the drilling-dense region of Garfield County, Colo., 89% demonstrated estrogenic; 41% anti-estrogenic; 12% androgenic; and 46% anti-androgenic activities.

“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 [endocrine-disrupting chemicals].”

Anti-estrogenic, anti-androgenic and limited estrogenic activities were identified in the 12 natural gas drilling chemicals tested, but no androgenic activity was found, according to researchers.

In addition, 2-ethyl-1-hexanol and ethylene glycol reflected the greatest potencies for anti-estrogenic activities, and ethylene glycol, N,N-dimethylformamide and cumene exhibited the greatest potencies for anti-androgenic activities, researchers wrote.

The Colorado River, in particular, showed moderate levels of estrogenic, anti-estrogenic and anti-androgenic activities. This suggests that higher localized activity at sites with known natural gas-related spills surrounding the river might be a contributing factor in the multiple receptor activities observed in the water source, researchers said.

Disclosure: The researchers report no relevant financial disclosures.

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