Important new study shows link between fracking chemicals and reproductive and developmental toxicity

A new study from Yale University released this week shows that a large number of chemicals found in fracking fluid and wastewater are associated with reproductive and developmental toxicity.

The study, “A systematic evaluation of chemicals in hydraulic-fracturing fluids and wastewater for reproductive and developmental toxicity,” was published in the Journal of Exposure Science and Environmental Epidemiology on January 6, 2016. In the study, the authors systematically evaluated 1,021 chemicals identified in fracking fluids, wastewater, or both for potential reproductive and developmental toxicity to identify those with the potential for human health impacts.

They researched each against a database, and discovered the following:

  • Toxicity information was lacking in the database for 781 chemicals (76%).
  • Of the remaining 240 substances, evidence suggested reproductive toxicity for 103 (43%), developmental toxicity for 95 (40%), and both for 41 (17%).
  • Of the 157 chemicals associated with toxicity, 67 either already have or have been proposed for a federal water quality standard or guideline.

Why this is important
There have been a number of studies that have associated proximity to fracking wells with adverse reproductive and developmental health impacts. We have reported on several on this site:

  • A 2013 Colorado study showed that exposure to frac water “could raise the risk of reproductive, metabolic, neurological and other diseases, especially in children who are exposed to EDCs [endocrine-disrupting chemicals].”
  • A 2014 Pennsylvania study looked at birth records to assess the health of infants born withina 2.5-kilometer radius of fracking sites. They found that proximity to fracking increased the likelihood of low birth weight by more than half.
  • A 2014 Colorado study examined the connection between how close a mother is to natural gas drilling and birth outcomes in a study of 124,842 births in rural Colorado between 1996 and 2009. The study shows an association between density and proximity of natural gas wells within a 10-mile radius of maternal residence and an increase of as much as 30% in the prevalence of congenital heart defects.

What this new study does is look at specific chemicals to identify the potential causes of the outcomes identified in the previous studies. This enables future studies to examine potency, chemical properties, and environmental concentrations to further hone in on what specific chemicals are causing adverse human health outcomes.

Potential adverse impacts of oil and gas drilling

Potential adverse impacts of oil and gas drilling

What it means for the Beartooth Front
These studies do not provide a smoking gun that explains exactly how chemicals found in oil and gas drilling adversely affect humans. We are honing in on the exact linkage, but we have to keep in mind that the fracking boom began just a few years ago and it will take science many years to catch up with the human health impacts.

In the meantime, it is essential for local residents to demand that safety measures be put in place. The scientific information gathered in this study and the ones that preceded it argue strongly for the following types of local regulations:

  • Setbacks of wellheads from occupied buildings
  • Regular testing of water, air and soil for contamination. This testing should occur before drilling occurs, regularly during drilling, and for years after drilling is complete.
  • Well design specifications to make sure that fracking waste cannot migrate into aquifers and groundwater.
  • Regular testing of cement casings to make sure they are not leaking.
  • Limitations on flaring.

Communities cannot wait for science to catch up. They need to take strong action to protect the health of their citizens.

If you want to know more about the impacts of oil and gas drilling
Comprehensive databases of scientific studies on the impacts of oil and gas drilling now exist. Two that we have discussed on this site include:

  • The third edition of the Compendium of Scientific, Medical, and Media Findings Demonstrating Risks and Harms of Fracking was published by two organizations: the Concerned Health Professionals of New York and Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR) last October The compendium is a fully referenced compilation of the evidence outlining the risks and harms of fracking, bringing together findings from the scientific and medical literature, government and industry reports, and journalistic investigation.
    Click to download the Compendium.
  • Physicians, Scientists and Engineers for Healthy Energy Database
    This is a database of peer-reviewed articles maintained by an organization called Physicians Scientists & Engineers for Healthy Energy. The database can be sorted by topic, author, or date, and you can pull up the articles by topic by clicking on the links below:

Study citation
Journal of Exposure Science and Environmental Epidemiology advance online publication 6 January 2016; doi: 10.1038/jes.2015.81. “A systematic evaluation of chemicals in hydraulic-fracturing fluids and wastewater for reproductive and developmental toxicity”

Authors: Elise G Elliott1,2, Adrienne S Ettinger2,3, Brian P Leaderer1,2, Michael B Bracken2,3 and Nicole C Deziel1,2

1.     1Department of Environmental Health Sciences, Yale School of Public Health, Yale University, New Haven, CT, USA
2.     2Center for Perinatal, Pediatric, and Environmental Epidemiology, Yale University, New Haven, CT, USA
3.     3Department of Chronic Disease Epidemiology, Yale School of Public Health, New Haven, CT, USA

Correspondence: Dr Nicole C Deziel, Yale School of Public Health, Yale University, 60 College Street, New Haven, CT 06520, USA. Tel.: +1 203 785 6062. Fax: +1 203 737 6023. E-mail:

About davidjkatz

The Moses family has lived on the Stillwater River since 1974, when George and Lucile Moses retired and moved to the Beehive from the Twin Cities. They’re gone now, but their four daughters (pictured at left, on the Beehive) and their families continue to spend time there, and have grown to love the area. This blog started as an email chain to keep the family informed about the threat of increased fracking activity in the area, but the desire to inform and get involved led to the creation of this blog.
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2 Responses to Important new study shows link between fracking chemicals and reproductive and developmental toxicity

  1. Pingback: ICYMI: Montana Political Reads for January 09, 2016 | Intelligent Discontent

  2. Lt. Col (Ret) Rich Liebert says:

    I called the BOAG, seems like ‘same ‘ol’ dynamics and a saving grace of the ‘Bakken Bust’ is at least – maybe – investigators can catch up on their inspections and the BOAG staffer couldn’t answer anything about setbacks………

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