Study: Fracking chemicals’ effect on hormones worse than originally thought

Exposure to many chemicals used in the fracking process can affect hormone receptors in the human body that help control immunity, brain development and fertility, according to a new study from the Endocrine Society, an organization that researches hormones and endocrinology.

"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," Christopher Kassotis, one of the study’s authors and a PhD student at the University of Missouri, Columbia, said at a recent conference focused on hormone research in Chicago.

A hormone is a substance that stimulates cells or tissue in your body into action. Receptors are proteins in cells that a hormone binds to in order to perform its function.

The study found chemicals used in the hydraulic fracturing process are capable of disrupting receptors for the female reproductive hormone, progesterone; glucocorticoid — a hormone that affects the immune system, reproduction and fertility; and for thyroid — a hormone that helps control metabolism and normal brain development.

"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,” he said.

The group’s earlier research showed water samples at sites with documented fracking spills in Garfield, Colo., with high to moderate levels of EDCs that mimicked or blocked the effects of estrogen (female hormones) and androgens (male hormones) in human cells, according to a press release about the study. Water from areas with no drilling showed little EDC effects on the two reproductive hormones.

More from the press release:

Among 24 common fracking chemicals that Kassotis and his colleagues repeatedly tested for EDC activity in human cells, 20 blocked the estrogen receptor, preventing estrogen from binding to the receptor and being able to have its natural biological response, he reported. In addition, 17 chemicals inhibited the androgen receptor, 10 hindered the progesterone receptor, 10 blocked the glucocorticoid receptor and 7 inhibited the thyroid hormone receptor.

The group did not test for fracking chemicals in local drinking water in Garfield, Colo., where the study was conducted. Kassotis, one of the group’s authors, said in the press release that it’s unlikely high concentrations of the chemicals would show up in drinking water near drilling.

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

Reach Natasha Khan at 412-315-0261 or at nkhan@publicsource.org.