New study connects fracking with lower sperm count

October 16, 2015, 6:18 PM UTC
Tour Of An Anadarko Petroleum Corp. Rig Site As U.S Crude Inventories Rise
A Halliburton Co. worker walks through an Anadarko Petroleum Corp. hydraulic fracturing (fracking) site north of Dacono, Colorado, U.S., on Tuesday, Aug. 12, 2014. U.S. crude oil inventories rose by 1.4 million barrels in the week ended Aug. 8, to 367 million, compared with the consensus-estimated draw of 1.6 million. Photographer: Jamie Schwaberow/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Photograph by Jamie Schwaberow — Bloomberg via Getty Images

A new study shows that chemicals associated with hydraulic fracturing, an oil and natural gas drilling technique more commonly known as fracking, have been linked with a decreased sperm count in male adulthood, according to a press release by the Endocrine Society.

Susan Nagel, the study’s lead author, and her team tested wastewater samples from Colorado fracking sites to identify 16 chemicals. Combining this information with what they had learned from reading materials about fracking, they came up with a concoction of 23 chemicals.

They exposed pregnant mice to these chemicals in levels that reflect what humans likely face from wastewater and from drinking water that has been exposed to fracking fluids. When they observed the male offspring in adulthood they found that, compared to the control group, they had lower sperm counts, heavier testicles and overall weights, higher levels of testosterone, and “persistent effects on the structure of the heart.”

Those 23 chemicals were identified as endocrine-disrupting chemicals, or EDCs, which interfere with hormones usually by mimicking them, blocking them, or otherwise inhibiting their natural processes. EDCs have been linked to various negative health effects, including birth defects, diabetes, cancer, obesity, and neurodevelopment issues.

Nagel commented on the study:

This study is the first to demonstrate that EDCs commonly used in fracking, at levels realistic for human and animal exposure in these regions, can have an adverse effect on the reproductive health of mice…. These findings may have implications for the fertility of men living in regions with dense oil and/or natural gas production.

She added that although it’s clear EDCs negatively effect natural hormonal functions, it’s not always clear how, and more research needs to be done on the many other chemicals that fracking exposes us to and their subsequent health risks.

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