Hormone-disrupting chemicals found in ground and surface water at fracking sites, Peer reviewed study of fracking sites in Garfield County Colorado finds chemicals linked to infertility, birth defects and cancer

Industry PR group Energy In Depth calls University of Missouri and USGS ‘fracking’ study ‘inflammatory’, Research cited chemicals issue by Andrew Denney, December 18, 2013, Columbia Daily Tribune
An advocacy group for oil and natural gas producers is criticizing what it calls an “inflammatory” study released this week by researchers from the University of Missouri and the U.S. Geological Survey saying chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” a controversial technique used to extract natural gas from the earth, can disrupt human hormone function. Energy In Depth, a Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group launched by the Independent Petroleum Association of America, argued in an article published Monday on its website that the researchers “falsely” claim that fracking is exempt from some key federal regulations and that endocrine-disrupting chemicals can come from both natural and man-made sources. “The authors of this report are clearly playing for headlines,” Katie Brown, a spokeswoman for Energy In Depth, said in an emailed statement. “The study was billed as linking fracking to widespread hormonal disruption, when in reality the researchers could make no definitive connection.”

Energy In Depth says fracking is regulated by some federal laws, citing a 2012 report from the Government Accountability Office saying eight federal environmental and public health laws apply to the practice, including a provision of the Clean Water Act requiring that oil and gas well operators obtain permits to discharge pollutants into surface waters. However, that same report also says exemptions and “limitations in regulatory coverage” undermine the effectiveness of six of those federal laws.

Susan Nagel, one of the researchers for the study and an associate professor for the MU Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Women’s Health, said government regulations on fracking are weak. “The EPA is just impotent to be proactive and apply typical, normal and preventative environmental monitoring,” she said. [Emphasis added]

Chemicals used in ‘fracking’ can disrupt human hormone function, MU researchers say by Andrew Denney, December 16, 2013, Columbia Daily Tribune
Susan Nagel, one of the researchers for the study and an associate professor for the MU Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Women’s Health, said she was “greatly” surprised by the lack of scientific literature on the topic of the effects of natural-gas drilling chemicals on human endocrine systems, and she said the study released today is the first laboratory study conducted on the issue. “At least no one’s publishing the answer,” Nagel said. “I think lots of people have been asking the question.”

The researchers collected samples of ground and surface water from Garfield County, Colo., where there is heavy drilling activity, and used ground and surface water collected in Boone County — where there is no known drilling activity — as a control. Garfield County has more that 10,000 active wells, the researchers stated. Nagel said there are about 30,000 active wells in Colorado, and that number is up from about 5,700 about 20 years ago. … The water sampled from Garfield County was taken from areas with sparse drilling activity, from the Colorado River that serves as the drainage basin for the region and five areas in Garfield County near fracking fluid spill sites. Natural gas drilling operations tend to cause a higher level of EDCs in nearby groundwater and surface water, the researchers found, even in areas with sparse drilling activity. In 2005, hydraulic fracturing was exempted from provisions of the Safe Drinking Water Act, the Clean Water Act and the Clean Air Act. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced in 2010 that it would begin a comprehensive study on the environmental effect of hydraulic fracturing and had previously said that the report would be available by next year. However, the EPA announced earlier this year that the report would not be released until 2016.

The researchers said that the water that is pulled back out of a well could potentially contain naturally occurring radioactive compounds from deep under the Earth’s crust and heavy metals. Nagel said the researchers will now work to identify which chemicals in fracking fluids are causing endocrine disruption, and they will partner with an epidemiologist to study health outcomes in populations that could be affected by natural gas drilling operations. She said the researchers will begin by looking into data such as birth rates, birth weights and the number of miscarriages reported in certain areas to study how they could be affected by natural gas drilling operations. “We will attack from every angle in terms of using retrospective data,” Nagel said

MU Researchers Find Fracking Chemicals Disrupt Hormone Function, Endocrine-disrupting activity linked to birth defects and infertility Press Release by Department of Medicine, University of Missouri Health System, December 16, 2013
University of Missouri researchers have found greater hormone-disrupting properties in water located near hydraulic fracturing drilling sites than in areas without drilling. The researchers also found that 11 chemicals commonly used in the controversial “fracking” method of drilling for oil and natural gas are endocrine disruptors. Endocrine disruptors interfere with the body’s endocrine system, which controls numerous body functions with hormones such as the female hormone estrogen and the male hormone androgen. Exposure to endocrine-disrupting chemicals, such as those studied in the MU research, has been linked by other research to cancer, birth defects and infertility.

“More than 700 chemicals are used in the fracking process, and many of them disturb hormone function,” said Susan Nagel, PhD, associate professor of obstetrics, gynecology and women’s health at the MU School of Medicine. “With fracking on the rise, populations may face greater health risks from increased endocrine-disrupting chemical exposure.”

The study involved two parts. The research team performed laboratory tests of 12 suspected or known endocrine-disrupting chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing, and measured the chemicals’ ability to mimic or block the effects of the reproductive sex hormones estrogen and androgen. They found that 11 chemicals blocked estrogen hormones, 10 blocked androgen hormones and one mimicked estrogen. The researchers also collected samples of ground and surface water from several sites, including:
* Accident sites in Garfield County, Colo., where hydraulic fracturing fluids had been spilled
* Nearby portions of the Colorado River, the major drainage source for the region
* Other parts of Garfield County, Colo., where there had been little drilling
* Parts of Boone County, Mo., which had experienced no natural gas drilling

The water samples from drilling sites demonstrated higher endocrine-disrupting activity that could interfere with the body’s response to androgen and estrogen hormones. Drilling site water samples had moderate-to-high levels of endocrine-disrupting activity, and samples from the Colorado River showed moderate levels. In comparison, the researchers measured low levels of endocrine-disrupting activity in the Garfield County, Colo., sites that experienced little drilling and the Boone County, Mo., sites with no 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. “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.”

Summary of the study

Estrogen and Androgen Receptor Activities of Hydraulic Fracturing Chemicals and Surface and Ground Water in a Drilling-Dense Region by Christopher D. KassotisDonald E. TillittJ. Wade DavisAnnette M. Hormann and Susan C. Nagel, Published online before print December 16, 2013, doi: 10.1210/en.2013-1697, Endocrinology December 16, 2013 en.2013-1697


The rapid rise in natural gas extraction utilizing hydraulic fracturing increases the potential for contamination of surface and ground water from chemicals used throughout the process. Hundreds of products containing more than 750 chemicals and components are potentially used throughout the extraction process, including over one hundred known or suspected endocrine disrupting chemicals. We hypothesized that a selected subset of chemicals used in natural gas drilling operations and also surface and ground water samples collected in a drilling-dense region of Garfield County, CO would exhibit estrogen and androgen receptor activities. Water samples were collected, solid-phase extracted, and measured for estrogen and androgen receptor activities using reporter gene assays in human cell lines. Of the 39 unique water samples, 89%, 41%, 12%, and 46% exhibited estrogenic, anti-estrogenic, androgenic, and anti-androgenic activities, respectively. Testing of a subset of natural gas drilling chemicals revealed novel anti-estrogenic, novel anti-androgenic, and limited estrogenic activities. The Colorado River, the drainage basin for this region, exhibited moderate levels of estrogenic, anti-estrogenic, and anti-androgenic activities, suggesting that higher localized activity at sites with known natural gas related spills surrounding the river might be contributing to the multiple receptor activities observed in this water source. The majority of water samples collected from sites in a drilling-dense region of Colorado exhibited more estrogenic, anti-estrogenic, or anti-androgenic activities than reference sites with limited nearby drilling operations. Our data suggest that natural gas drilling operations may result in elevated EDC activity in surface and ground water. 

EU environmental assessment law must include fracking Press Release by HEAL, December 17, 2013
Brussels – New evidence published today has prompted renewed calls from the Health and Environment Alliance (HEAL) for the environmental impact assessment to address shale gas fracking in Europe. (1) Research published in Endocrinology yesterday confirms fears that shale gas fracking can release harmful chemicals into the environment, and thereby menace public health, according to HEAL. … The study is the first to show that ground and surface water samples taken from hydraulic fracturing (fracking) sites in the USA where spills had occurred contain higher levels of endocrine-disrupting activity than areas with little drilling. (2) Endocrine disrupting activity is of concern because ground and surface water is often used for drinking and bathing.

Although fracking in the USA takes place under different conditions and laws, this study is equally relevant for Europe because spills can never be completely avoided. The study makes the link between fracking spills and water contaminated with higher levels of harmful chemicals, which may cause or facilitate chronic diseases.  Endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) are linked with various chronic diseases, such as infertility and sexual organ malformation, hormonal cancers (breast, prostate, testis), neurological impairments (e.g., learning difficulties), and metabolic conditions (e.g., diabetes and obesity). (3) “More than 700 chemicals are used in the fracking process, and many of them disturb hormone function,” said one of the study’s authors, Susan Nagel, PhD, associate professor of obstetrics, gynaecology and women’s health at the University of Missouri, School of Medicine. “With fracking on the rise, populations may face greater health risks from increased endocrine-disrupting chemical exposure.”  (4)

The types and amounts of toxic chemicals used in fluids injected into fracking wells are not always disclosed fully to the public. However, in 2011 The Endocrine Disruption Exchange (TEDX) successfully identified 353 chemicals being used in shale fracturing for natural gas. The analysis showed that 37% of these chemicals were endocrine disruptors.  The study also showed that exposure to more than 75% of the chemicals used could have immediate effects on the skin, eyes, and other sensory organs, and the respiratory and gastrointestinal systems.  (5)

Lisette van Vliet, Senior Policy Advisor, HEAL says: “This new paper shows we’re right to be concerned about these chemicals contaminating our water – water for drinking and growing food – in ways that could contribute to chronic diseases like some cancers, obesity and infertility.  Environmental impact assessment is a key process to address chemical uses so EU law must include all fracking activities. We look to the European Parliament to stand firm against the blocking minority in the European Council and continue to insist that all fracking activities be included in the law.”

Sandra Steingraber, PhD, Concerned Health Professionals of New York (6) says: “This new study shows us three things.  One, chemicals commonly used in US drilling and fracking operations include agents that mimic sex hormones. Two, in areas of intense drilling, these chemicals turn up in water supplies at levels that alter hormonal signalling in living cells.  Three, pregnant women, mothers, fathers, children, breast cancer patients—and all those who love them—are right to stand up and say, very loudly, ENOUGH. With this study, the fracking industry, like the tobacco and lead paint industries before it, has very little ground left from which to wave the ‘no proof of harm’ flag.” [Emphasis added]

More information from HEAL on fracking

Hormone-disrupting chemicals found in water at fracking sites, A study of hydraulic fracturing sites in Colorado finds substances that have been linked to infertility, birth defects and cancer by Neela Banerjee, December 16, 2013, Los Angeles Times
Water samples collected at Colorado sites where hydraulic fracturing was used to extract natural gas show the presence of chemicals that have been linked to infertility, birth defects and cancer, scientists reported Monday. The study, published in the journal Endocrinology, also found elevated levels of the hormone-disrupting chemicals in the Colorado River, where wastewater released during accidental spills at nearby wells could wind up. Tests of water from sites with no fracking activity also revealed the activity of so-called endocrine-disrupting chemicals, or EDCs. But the levels from these control sites were lower than in places with direct links to fracking, the study found.  …  The process is exempt from some regulations that are part of the Safe Drinking Water Act, and energy companies do not have to disclose the chemicals they use if they consider that information a trade secret. The study was published as the Energy Information Administration issued a forecast that natural gas production would continue to rise, and gas would overtake coal as the United States’ main source of fuel for power plants. The fact that the domestic boom in oil and gas is driven by fracking has made discussions of its impact extremely fraught.

Nagel and her colleagues tested samples of surface water and groundwater from Garfield County, Colo., which, with its approximately 10,000 wells, is a center of oil and gas development driven by fracking. The research team gathered multiple water samples at five natural gas sites where spills of fracking wastewater had occurred over the last six years, Nagel said. The team tested for the presence of four different classes of endocrine-disrupting chemicals. Out of 39 water samples collected at five drilling sites, 89% showed estrogenic properties, 41% were anti-estrogenic, 12% were androgenic and 46% were anti-androgenic, according to the report. The samples were not tested for specific fracking chemicals or for concentrations of chemicals. Water from control sites in Colorado and Missouri where there is no fracking showed some EDC activity, but the levels were lower than in the water samples from the Garfield County sites, according to the study.

The team also tested water samples from the Colorado River. These samples showed the presence of more EDC activity than the control samples, the researchers found. In another part of the study, researchers conducted laboratory analyses of 12 fracking chemicals that are used in Colorado to extract oil and gas. They found that the chemicals were endocrine disrupters that could interfere with human sex hormones. Over the last three years, researchers have assessed more than 700 chemicals that could be used in the fracking process and estimated that about 100 are known or suspected EDCs.

Nagel said that although estrogenic substances can be found naturally occurring in water, she did not know of similar sources of anti-estrogenic or anti-androgenic chemicals. Exposure to EDCs is particularly risky for fetuses, babies and young children, scientists said. Last year, the World Health Organization issued a report raising the alarm on EDCs, saying that endocrine-related illnesses were on the rise worldwide.

Mark Salley, spokesman for the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, said his agency had not yet had time to review the study.
But Katie Brown, a spokeswoman with the industry advocacy group Energy In Depth, dismissed the study as inflammatory.”

Independent scientists who reviewed the study countered that the researchers were cautious with their conclusions. The study does not state that fracking spills contaminated surface and groundwater. Rather, it shows a correlation between the Garfield County spill sites and greater activity of EDCs in the water.

“I’m not an alarmist about this, but it is something the country should take seriously,” Nagel said. … “The human endocrine system and that of wildlife is guided by very small fluctuations of hormones,” said Dr. Meg Schwarzman, associate director of the Berkeley Center for Green Chemistry at UC Berkeley. “Even low levels of anti-estrogenic or anti-androgenic activity could potentially alter development in ways that are meaningful.” [Emphasis added]

Fracking chemicals disrupt hormone function by Health Medicine Network, December 16, 2013
A controversial oil and natural gas drilling technique called hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, uses many chemicals that can disrupt the body’s hormones, according to new research accepted for publication in The Endocrine Society’s journal Endocrinology. Endocrine-disrupting chemicals, or EDCs, are substances that can interfere with the normal functioning of the endocrine system. EDCs can be found in manufactured products as well as certain foods, air, water and soil. Research has linked EDC exposure to infertility, cancer and birth defects. … “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 EDCs.”

What Fracking Does to Your Hormones, New research suggests the gas-drilling process can release harmful chemicals that disrupt human hormones

Fracking chemicals disrupt hormone function, Endocrine-disrupting activity linked to birth defects, infertility found near drilling sites

[Refer also to:

March 2012: TINY DOSES OF GAS DRILLING CHEMICALS MAY HAVE BIG HEALTH EFFECTS, Authors of new study encourage more low-dose testing of endocrine-disrupting chemicals, with implications for the debate on natural gas drilling ]

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