The water surrounding hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, sites is laced with hormone-disrupting chemicals, researchers announced Monday, highlighting another way in which fracking could pose a public health risk.
The study, published in the journal Endocrinology, found elevated levels of 12 different known or suspected endocrine disrupters in the surface water and groundwater at sites in Colorado -- as well as in the Colorado River.
[Study author Susan] 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.
As drilling companies aren't required to disclose the chemicals they use in fracking operations, the study wasn't able to say with certainty where the endocrine disrupters came from -- only that they were there, and that where they were, fracking sites were nearby.
"With fracking on the rise," said Nagel, "populations may face greater health risks from increased endocrine-disrupting chemical exposure."