Does hydraulic fracturing (also called “fracking”), the process of pumping millions of gallons of chemical-laden water deep underground to fracture rock and release gas and oil, pose risks to the human organism and the environment? According to a new study, the answer is “quite possibly.”
As Futurity reports, previous studies have already concluded that in fracking-dense regions, health concerns, such as lymphocytic leukemia and asthma attacks, crop up more frequently among local residents. The latest study, published in Toxicological Sciences, suggests fracking chemicals also harm the immune system.
Said Paige Lawrence, lead author of the study and chair of environmental medicine at the University of Rochester Medical Center: “Our study reveals that there are links between early life exposure to fracking-associated chemicals and damage to the immune system in mice.”
“This discovery opens up new avenues of research to identify, and someday prevent, possible adverse health effects in people living near fracking sites,” she added.
Approximately 200 chemicals are used for the hydraulic fracturing process. According to Susan Nagel, co-author of the study and associate professor of reproductive and perinatal research at the University of Missouri School of Medicine, at least 23 are linked to reproductive and developmental defects in mice. Nagel labeled these chemicals as “endocrine disrupters.” Essentially, they interfere with hormones and contribute to imbalance within the body.
Lawrence and her team tested the immune impact of the 23 fracking chemicals on mice. The chemicals were added to the drinking water of pregnant mice at similar levels to those found in groundwater near fracking sites. “Our goal is to figure out if these chemicals in our water impact human health,” said Lawrence, “but we first need to know what specific aspects of health to look at, so this was a good place to start.”
The results were concerning. The baby mice, particularly females, that were exposed to mixture of the 23 chemicals showed abnormal immune responses to several types of diseases later on. These included an allergic disease and a type of flu. Reportedly, the mouse pups were especially susceptible to a disease that mimics multiple sclerosis.
Based on the results, the researchers believe fracking chemicals “derail cellular pathways that control which immune cells are spurred to action.” As a result, the exposed offspring’s ability to fight off disease later on in life is diminished.
The researchers intend to continue their research and investigate how fracking chemicals interact with the developing immune system. Their ultimate goal is to understand how the controversial process affects human health.
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