Fracking may increase health risks, scientists warn

Fracking may increase health risks from hormone-disrupting chemicals released into the environment, say researchers.

Scientists sounded the warning after studying water pollution at sites in the US where the controversial natural gas drilling technique is used.

The team looked at 12 suspected or known "endocrine disrupting chemicals" (EDCs) used in fracking operations and measured their ability to mimic or block the effects of reproductive hormones.

Water samples from drilling sites with a record of spillages had levels of the chemicals high enough to interfere with the body's responses to male hormones, as well as oestrogen.

Little endocrine disrupter activity was found in water samples from sites where little drilling was taking place.

Dr Susan Nagel, from the University of Missouri, one of the authors of the study published in the journal Endocrinology, said: "More than 700 chemicals are used in the fracking process, and many of them disturb hormone function.

"With fracking on the rise, populations may face greater health risks from increased endocrine-disrupting chemical exposure."

Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, uses a pressurised mixture of water and chemicals to free natural gas and oil from shale rock. It offers an enormous source of untapped energy in the UK, with trillions of cubic feet of gas said to be recoverable in parts of northern England.

However there is strong opposition to the granting of drilling licences to fracking companies. Those fighting moves to allow fracking in the UK say it poses an unacceptable environmental and health hazard.

The US scientists took surface and ground water samples from sites where drilling spills and accidents were known to have occurred. They focused on a drilling-dense area of Garfield county, Colorado, where there are more than 10,000 active natural gas wells.

Findings from these sites were compared with those from other places with little drilling and no spills.

Samples taken from the Colorado River, which collects water from the drilling sites, had moderate levels of endocrine-disrupting chemicals.

"Fracking is exempt from federal regulations to protect water quality, but spills associated with natural gas drilling can contaminate surface, ground and drinking water," said Nagel. "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." © 2013 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds