Researchers keep trying – and failing – to link fracking to reproductive problems

fracking

Source: Yale University.

More likely that exposure to chemicals found in fracking is greater in your kitchen or garage

By Katie Brown, Energy In Depth

Just when we thought the University of Missouri researchers couldn’t come up with an argument sillier than fracking causes low sperm counts, the same team is back with yet another study, this time claiming exposure to endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) in fracking fluid causes problems with ovarian follicles in mice.

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Actor and ban-fracking activist Mark Ruffalo.

Of course, as EID has noted many times, one of the researchers of the study, Susan Nagel, actually appealed to anti-fracking activists Josh FoxMark Ruffalo and Yoko Ono to help her team fundraise for their research after their work was rejected by the National Institutes of Health for not being “good enough to be funded.” She also publicly endorsed Gasland in a talk entitled “What the Frack?” in which she called Josh Fox’s completely debunked films“educational” because they contain “a lot of good information.”

Against that backdrop of activism, the researchers exposed mice “to a mixture of 23 commonly used unconventional oil and gas chemicals at approximately 3, 30, 300, and 3000_g/kg_d, flutamide at 50 mg/kg_d, or a 0.2% ethanol control vehicle via their drinking water from gestational day 11through birth.”

Let’s just say if you give pregnant mice only contaminated water to drink – and at extremely high concentrations – is it any surprise that they might have abnormalities as a result? In other words, the researchers concocted the most unlikely scenario – continuous exposure to chemicals at high concentrations – and then tried to pass it off as plausible.

First, fracking fluid is typically 99.5 percent water and sand, while the remaining 0.5 percent is made up of additives.  According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the maximum concentration of all additives was less than one percent and the median maximum fracking fluid concentration was 0.43 percent by mass.

In their previous sperm study, the researchers used exactly the same dosages as this study – and at the time, they explained that these levels were nowhere near plausible in real life. In fact, the lead researcher, Christopher Kassotis admitted, it’s “unlikely people would ever be exposed to doses quite as high.”  This time, the researchers explain their high doses this way:

“Exposure via drinking water occurred at environmentally relevant concentrations with the 2 lowest doses equivalent to concentrations reported in drinking water in drilling regions and the highest dose tested equivalent to those concentrations reported in industry wastewater samples.”

The two studies the researchers cite to back up that claim? Two studies done by themselves of course. One was their previous study on mice sperm, which suffers from the same flaws as this newest ovarian follicle study, and the other was a study the research team conducted that was essentially just a book report of studies – many written by activist groups like Earthworks and the Bucket Brigade – that have long been discredited. See EID’s blog post, which explains in detail the flaws in all the studies the Nagel team cited here.

But front and center of that “book report” study was the Nagel team’s first hormone study in which they claimed to have located EDCs from fracking in the water at a number of sites. EID has the full rundown on that study here, but since then, the researchers have been forced to admit that they had no scientific evidence to make any link between fracking and contamination at those sites. As Nagel stated last year in an NPR interview,

“We did not prove that those spills were the cause of the increased endocrine disrupting activity in the water.”

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) agreed. In a statement to the media, its Water Quality Control Division listed a series of criticisms against the paper, including the fact that

“There are numerous (thousands?) septic systems in Garfield County. We don’t know how this may influence endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs) concentrations in groundwater.”

CDPHE also noted that the researchers’ geological assumptions were “not factually or scientifically valid” and “there is no indication in the study that any of the sample sites are currently used for drinking water.” The medical publication Clinical Advisor further noted “a lack of direct identification of fracking chemicals in the tested water.”

Meanwhile just about every study conducted by credible organizations has found that fracking does not provide a credible threat to drinking water. The one that most stands out is EPA’s five year study of fracking and groundwater – the most thorough study to date on fracking, which found,

“[H]ydraulic fracturing activities have not led to widespread, systemic impacts to drinking water resources.”

EPA also looked as spills specifically and found the number of cases of water being impacted by development activities to be “small”:

“Of the potential mechanisms identified in this report, we found specific instances where one or more mechanisms led to impacts on drinking water resources, including contamination of drinking water wells. The number of identified cases, however, was small compared to the number of hydraulically fractured wells.” (ES-6, emphasis added)

EPA’s study is right in line with a “landmark study” by the U.S. Department of Energy in which the researchers injected tracers into hydraulic fracturing fluid and found no groundwater contamination after twelve months of monitoring. As Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz recently said, “we continue to not see examples of the fracking itself, the hydrologic fracturing, compromising freshwater.”

Researchers at the University of Cincinnati recently completed a study in which they took samples before, during and after shale development, and found no groundwater contamination from fracking. Studies by the U.S. Geological Survey, the Government Accountability Office, the Groundwater Protection CouncilCalifornia Council on Science and Technology, as well as studies by numerous universities, such as MITUniversity of Texas at Austin and Yale have come to that same conclusion.

We also found it very interesting that in their previous sperm study, the researchers included a chart delineating the exact chemicals that they used, and also noted what other products contain those same chemicals. But in this new study the chart – or indeed the information on what exact chemicals were used – was not included in the study.

In the researchers’ previous sperm study, however, their own data showed the EDCs they used are located in dyes, perfumes, plastics, personal care products, detergents, cleaning agents, and the list goes on. Here’s that chart again:

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Six of these chemicals are also surfactants – chemicals what were recently found to be “no more toxic than common household substances” by a University of Colorado-Boulder report.

Not only are these chemicals in just about everything we use, they are also located in nature. The chart also clearly shows that at least ten of the chemicals that were tested are naturally occurring, which is important considering that numerous studies have found naturally occurring chemicals in water wells before oil and gas development ever occurred. The most recent one comes from a report by researchers at Syracuse University, which looked at 21,000 baseline samples in Pennsylvania and found,

“no broad changes in variability of chemical quality in this large dataset to suggest any unusual salinization caused by possible release of produced waters from oil and gas operations, even after thousands of gas wells have been drilled among tens of thousands of domestic wells within the two areas studied.”

In order for a chemical to be of concern for toxicity there needs to be a concentration high enough to cause harm and a pathway for contamination. With chemicals making up less than one percent of the fracking fluid, and even EPA stating that there’s no credible threat to drinking water from fracking, it’s more likely that exposure to these chemicals is greater in your kitchen or garage.

This is likely not the last attempt will see from these researchers in their ongoing efforts to link fracking to hormonal problems – but all these attempts have one thing in common: they fail to do so.

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