High levels of hormone-disrupting chemicals have been found in water samples near fracking sites in Colorado, according to research accepted for publication in The Endocrine Society’s journal Endocrinology.
The chemicals “could raise the risk of reproductive, metabolic, neurological and other diseases, especially in children who are exposed to EDCs [endocrine-disrupting chemicals],” said one of the study’s authors, Susan Nagel, of the University of Missouri School of Medicine.
Researchers took surface and ground water samples from sites with drilling spills or accidents in Garfield County, Colo. The area has more than 10,000 natural gas wells. Researchers also looked at control samples from sites without spills in Garfield County, as well samples from Boone County, Missouri.
The water samples from drilling sites had higher levels of EDC activity that could interfere with the body’s response to the reproductive hormone estrogen, and androgens, a class of hormones that includes testosterone.
Drilling site water samples had moderate to high levels of the hormone-disrupting chemical. Water samples from the Colorado River, which is the drainage basin for the natural gas drilling sites, had moderate levels.
Researchers found little EDC activity in the water samples from the sites with little drilling.
“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.
Researchers looked at 12 suspected endocrine-disrupting chemicals used in fracking. They measured the chemicals’ ability to mimic, or block, the effect of the body’s male and female reproductive hormones.
“More than 700 chemicals are used in the fracking process, and many of them disturb hormone function,” Nagel said.
Research has linked EDC exposure to infertility, cancer and birth defects.
“With fracking on the rise, populations may face greater health risks from increased endocrine-disrupting chemical exposure,” Nagel said.
EDCs can also be found in manufactured products, certain foods, air, water, and soil.
Other authors of the study include: C.D. Kassotis, J.W. Davis and A.M. Hormann of the University of Missouri, and D.E. Tillitt of the U.S. Geological Survey.
The study, “Estrogen and Androgen Receptor Activities of Hydraulic Fracturing Chemicals and Surface and Ground Water in a Drilling-Dense Region,” was published online on Dec. 16.