Fracking Chemicals Can Disrupt Hormones and May Impact Health

First Posted: Jun 23, 2014 11:40 AM EDT

Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, can impact the environment in the form of chemicals. Now, scientists have found that these chemicals can disrupt not only the human body's reproductive hormones, but also the glucocorticoid and thyroid hormone receptors, which are necessary to maintain good health.

In hydraulic fracturing, chemicals and water is injected deep underground under high pressure in order to facture hard rock. This releases trapped natural gas and oil, which is then extracted for use. However, there has been some concern about the chemicals seeping into groundwater and impacting the natural environment. That's why it's important to see what effect these chemicals could have on humans.

 "Among the chemicals that the fracking industry has reported using most often, all 24 that we have tested block the activity of one or more important hormone receptors," said Christopher Kassotis, one of the researchers, in a news release. "The high levels of hormone disruption by endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs) that we measured, have been associated with many poor health outcomes, such as infertility, cancer and birth defects."

In earlier research, scientists found that water samples collected from sites with documenting fracking spills had moderate to high levels of EDC activity that mimicked or blocked the effects of estrogens and androgens in human cells. This study, though, looked at whether high-use fracking chemicals changed other key hormone receptors. Specifically, the researchers looked at the female reproductive hormone, progesterone, as well as glucocorticoid, a hormone important for the immune system, and the thyroid hormone.

In the end, the researchers found that out of the 24 common fracking chemicals, 20 blocked the estrogen receptor. In addition 17 inhibited the androgen receptor, 10 hindered the progesterone receptor, 10 blocked the glucocorticoid receptor and 7 inhibited the thyroid hormone receptor.

The findings reveal the importance of carefully treating wastewater from fracking sites. In addition, it shows how crucial it is to test nearby water sources for these chemicals in order to determine whether any contamination has taken place.

"We don't know what the adverse health consequences might be in humans and animals exposed to these chemicals," said Kassotis. "But infants and children would be most vulnerable because they are smaller, and infants lack the ability to break down these chemicals."

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