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Evidence Is Growing of Fracking’s Dangers to Reproductive and Developmental Health

This month we released Dangerous and Close, a report highlighting the proximity of Pennsylvania fracking wells to locations with the state’s most vulnerable populations: schools, preschools, hospitals, and nursing homes. The report covers many reasons why fracking next to vulnerable populations is troubling, but in recent days new research has emerged that specifically highlights fracking’s impact on reproductive health, and adds to a growing body of evidence suggesting that exposure to fracking chemicals can have particularly damaging impacts when it comes to pregnancy and prenatal health.

The newest study [pdf] found that mice exposed to certain fracking chemicals suffered reproductive health impacts, and suggests that humans could be impacted similarly. For the study, researchers first tested fracking chemicals for hormone disruption properties; among the many fracking chemicals that tested positive for these properties were benzene, a carcinogenic chemical used to decrease surface tension in fracking fluid, and toluene, another carcinogenic chemical used to prevent clogging in fracking wells. The researchers then collected fracking wastewater samples from drilling sites with leaking pipes and open waste containers, and analyzed the samples to quantify the concentrations of hormone-disrupting chemicals that could reach the environment through fracking. Finally, the researchers subjected mice to prenatal exposure of similar concentrations of these chemicals, and found that the mice suffered from adverse health impacts including decreased sperm counts and increased testes, heart, and thymus weights.

This new research adds to the growing body of evidence suggesting that exposure to fracking chemicals can be damaging to reproductive and developmental health.

  • A recent study found that pregnant women who live near fracking sites are at increased risk for giving premature birth.

  • A study of births in rural Colorado found that infants born near drilling sites were more likely to be born with congenital heart defects.

  • A study analyzing a subset of fracking chemicals found that exposure could lead to decreased fertility, increased cancer incidence, decreased sperm quality and quantity, and reproductive tract deformities.[pdf] One of the study’s sampling sites had been previously used as a small ranch before a fracking spill occurred there – afterwards, the ranch was closed “because the animals no longer produced live offspring.”

  • One study catalogued the risks of known fracking chemicals to developmental and reproductive health, and found risks including miscarriages, stillbirths and birth defects.

Despite ample evidence of the danger that fracking poses to the environment and our health, hydraulic fracturing is largely exempt from the laws designed to protect people from dangerous air and water pollution, including the Safe Drinking Water Act and the Clean Water Act.[pdf] It’s time to extend these and other protections to the communities who live in the shadow of fracking operations, and to give them the confidence that the reckless pursuit of oil and gas will not leave behind a wake of disability, infertility, and other health problems.