More than 15 million Americans live within one mile of unconventional oil and gas (UOG) operations, which combine directional drilling and fracking to release natural gas from underground rock. (Credit: Dauvit Alexander/Flickr)

birth defects

Fracking chemicals may harm reproductive health

Exposure to chemicals released during hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” may increase the risk for infertility, miscarriage, impaired fetal growth, birth defects, and reduced semen quality.

That’s the finding of the largest review to date of research centered on fracking byproducts as part of unconventional oil and gas (UOG) operations, which combine directional drilling and hydraulic fracturing to release natural gas from underground rock.

More than 15 million Americans live within one mile of UOG operations.

“We examined more than 150 peer-reviewed studies reporting on the effects of chemicals used in UOG operations and found evidence to suggest there is cause for concern for human health,” says Susan C. Nagel, a researcher with the University of Missouri.

“Further, we found that previous studies suggest that adult and early life exposure to chemicals associated with UOG operations can result in adverse reproductive health and developmental defects in humans.”

Chemicals in air and water

The “weight of evidence” review of scientific literature and peer-reviewed publications, where studies are examined thoroughly for patterns and links, included international studies that focused on UOG chemicals.

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Reviewers say these chemicals have been measured in air and water near UOG operations, and have been associated with harmful effects in both animals and humans.

“There are far fewer human studies than animal studies; however, taken together, the studies did show that humans can be harmed by these chemicals released from fracking,” Nagel says.

“There is strong evidence of decreased semen quality in men, higher miscarriages in women, and increased risk of birth defects in children. There is a striking need for continued research on UOG processes and chemicals and the health outcomes in people.”

Nagel conducted the review, published in the journal Reviews on Environmental Health, with colleagues from the University of Missouri as well as researchers at the Institute for Health and the Environment and the Center for Environmental Health.

Source: University of Missouri

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