Reproductive and developmental toxins found in fracking fluids and waste water


A study of more than 1,000 chemicals used in and created by fracking in the United States found that 15% were linked to reproductive and developmental health problems.

The analysis by researchers at Yale School of Public Health discovered 157 substances in fracking fluids or wastewater which were associated with reproductive or development toxicity.

Researchers were particularly concerned about 67 chemicals because they were the subject of a federal health standard or guideline.

The study, published in the Journal of Exposure Science and Environmental and Epidemiology yesterday, called for urgent research to investigate public health uncertainties.

A review of the study published today by the website Energy in Depth  concluded that the authors fail to establish any credible link between fracking fluids and drinking water sources, or provide any evidence of the “possible pathways” that they alleged for exposure.

Potential contaminants

Nicole Deziel, Assistant Professor of Public Health and and author of the study, said:

“This evaluation is a first step to prioritize the vast array of potential environmental contaminants from hydraulic fracturing for future exposure and health studies.”

“Quantification of the potential exposure to these chemicals, such as by monitoring drinking water in people’s homes, is vital for understanding the public health impact of hydraulic fracturing.”

Previous studies have observed associations between proximity to fracking sites reproductive and developmental problems, the researchers said. But these studies did not investigate specific chemicals.

“This latest evaluation could inform the design of future studies by highlighting which chemicals could have the highest probability of health impact”, they said.

Consistent with other studies, the Yale research concluded:

“A greater proportion of chemicals in wastewater were linked to reproductive and developmental toxicity compared with fracturing fluids”.

It added:

“Carefully designed, rigorous exposure and epidemiologic studies are urgently needed to investigate public health uncertainties and form a scientific basis of appropriate evidence-based policies.”

The study identified 1,021 chemicals used in fracking fluids and wastewater. Of these 781 did not have information about their reproductive or development toxicity.

These chemicals “need to be rigorously analysed to determine if they pose health threats”, the researchers said.

The team analysed the remaining 240 chemicals and concluded that 157, including arsenic, benzene, cadmium, lead, formaldehyde, chlorine and mercury, were associated with either development or reproductive toxicity or both.

The lead author, Elise Elliott, a public health doctoral student, said:

“We focused on reproductive and developmental toxicity because these effects may be early indicators of environmental hazards. Gaps in our knowledge highlight the need to improve our understanding of the potential adverse effects associated with these compounds”.

A systematic evaluation of chemicals in hydraulic-fracturing fluids and wastewater for reproductive and developmental toxicity. Elise G. Elliott, Adrienne S. Ettinger, Brian P. Leaderer, Michael B. Bracken and Nicole C. Dezie in Journal of Exposure Science and Environmental and Epidemiology, 6th January 2016

For a rebuttal of the research see: Study alleges harm from fracking chemicals with zero evidence by  Energy in Depth

24 replies »

  1. Why do you publish this irrelevance Ruth? You know that chemical usage is restricted under EU and UK law.

    The European wide Groundwater Directive is European legislation that states. In order to protect the environment as a whole, and human health in particular, detrimental concentrations of harmful pollutants in groundwater must be avoided, prevented or reduced.

    The Environment Agency regulations state Groundwater’ means all water that is below the surface of the ground in the saturation zone and in contact with the groundwater or subsoil (EPR, Regulation 2(1)).
    ‘Aquifer’ means a subsurface layer or layers of rock or other geological strata of sufficient permeability to allow either a significant flow of groundwater or the abstraction of significant quantities of groundwater (WFD Article 2.11).
    Under EPR Schedule 22, paragraph 6 we must take all necessary measures to: (a) prevent the input of any hazardous substance to groundwater; and (b) limit the input of non-hazardous pollutants to groundwater so as to ensure that such inputs do not cause pollution of groundwater. The Environment Agency would not authorise the use of a hazardous substance for an activity, including hydraulic fracturing.
    The pollutants the Environment Agency are concerned with for groundwater are: ‘Hazardous substances’, which are substances or groups of substances that are toxic, persistent and liable to bioaccumulate, and other substances or groups of substances that give rise to an equivalent level of concern (EPR Schedule 22, paragraph 4).
    Any non-hazardous pollutants, which is ‘any pollutant other than a hazardous substance (EPR, Schedule 22, paragraph 5). http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukdsi/2010/9780111491423/schedule/22
    Substances on List I of the binding Groundwater Directive (80/68/EEC) are taken to be hazardous substances [140][141]
    The Environment Agency list of chemicals does not contain all of those that may be proposed in hydraulic fracturing. The regulations above indicate that authorisation would be decided on a case by case basis, using the above protocols.

    So why an article on carcinogens/toxins/ and nasty stuff that the law forbids?

    • The pollutants the Environment Agency are concerned with for groundwater are: ‘Hazardous substances’, which are substances or groups of substances that are toxic, persistent and liable to bioaccumulate, and other substances or groups of substances that give rise to an equivalent level of concern (EPR Schedule 22, paragraph 4).

      Fracking waste water spills and leaks and leaking wells DO pose a threat to our groundwater, and surface water and subsoil.

      Regardless of what goes down the well, the chemicals and substances that are returned to the surface in waste water are a potential source of contamination. Furthermore, as this wastewater is destined to re enter our drinking supply at a future stage, it is a matter of public interest to know what chemicals and elements may be present before any treatment.

      • The list of chemicals the EA say they have permitted for in frack fluid are:
        glutaraldehyde – used for bacterial control, although not required if mains water is used at the site
        • polyacrylamide – used to reduce friction when pumping to depth
        • dilute hydrochloric acid – commonly used to remove any buildup of scale inside a well

        Cuadrilla have a different list on their site.

        US Congress have a full list which was in a commissioned report some years back.

        Here’s a link to the EU study of frack water:


        sorry, had to cut that in two, wouldn’t upload otherwise.

      • Hi Kate. Its great that you have got the non hazardous chemicals bit. So many have not!

        Regarding wastewater, dozens of industries create polluted water. There is an industry that is involved with cleaning it up, and making sure that it is disposed of under licence. That means the Environment Agency have to approve what is proposed.
        In fact the best technique seems to be what is proposed at Third Energy. The flowback is contained securely after a frack stage. It is then cleaned up and re injected on the next stage. As such if that works, the well will have very little flowback at all, as the bulk of it will remain underground.
        I suppose you know that typically the fracking is done in 30 stages, each one a separate operation, and effectively a separate well.
        I suppose you know that the well pad is required to have a chemical proof lining so that any spills will be contained?

        • Ken are you on UKOG payroll? You definitely act as an apologist for the industry. I’d like to see you drink frackwater given to you for a week. Time to be sensible.

      • Cuadrilla say They will be using minimal additives to their fracking fluid.That would be correct. Good PR to reassure the public. Commercial extraction by greed driven investors would be a completely different story. I wonder why Baroness Kramer included an amendment to allow fracking companies to leave ANY SUBSTANCES underground. Not really necessary to sneak in this little amendment if the industry is only going to use a thimbleful of slipping agents with a sprinkle of biocide.

    • Hi Ken. Thanks for your comment. The study also looked at toxins in wastewater, which may be relevant to the UK.

  2. The report notes that “arsenic, benzene, cadmium, lead, formaldehyde, chlorine and mercury,” are bad for us. I think we have known for a considerable time that these are bad for human health. Presumably the cadmium, lead and possibly mercury are leached from the subsurface shale / formation as they are probably not used in frack fluid. Certainly they won’t be used in the UK. If these items are in the Bowland Shale which outcrops in the FOB AONB we should check our drinking water. A lot of drinking water comes from this catchment via UU. The report does highlight the need for monitoring boreholes and pre – production acquifer water testing to establish baselines. Benzene is a component of crude oil, not normally gas. As Ken notes above, there will be very few chemicals permitted to be used in frack fluid in the UK.

    • But the flowback which could contain some unpleasant materials, will be reinjected in the next frack stage, or disposed of under licence. That means there is no potential for pollution.

    • Hi Ruth, yes I realise. I posted something above, as that has all been looked at. There does seem to be an idea that water will somehow have to be returned to the drinking water cycle and pollute it. Thats not how the water cycle works! We get rain and that is pure, and that is what we drink. from aquifers etc. Then we have many systems that might pollute… farming/sewage treatment/industry/landfills etc. The EA regulate all of these (and drilling) to ensure that the precious aquifers are protected. Its their core business after all, and they have helped the UK become clean, rather than the post industrial toxic mass there was in our rivers many years ago.

      • Hi Ken, you say that wastewater wil just keep being used, but it has limited reuse. This means that it needs to be disposed of. We are talking very large volumes .

        The wastewater from Preese Hall ended up in the Manchester Ship Canal after some treatment at Davyhulme Treatment Works.

        I appreciate this was before more recent EU Directives , but this does raise 2 important issues.

        1) As far as I am aware, Davyhulme is NOT licensed for treatment of radioactive water

        2) If fracking waste water had not been reclassified, would it still be considered expedient to dispose of it in this way?

        Why, knowing that wastewater contains such a toxic mix which does pose a public health risk, did Cuadrilla not take reponsibility for proper treatment ?

  3. A good feature Ruth, thanks. I will add the research to the rest of my huge volume of scientific reports from the US now causing hundreds of municipalities to ban fracking.

    Meanwhile UKTAG are trying to catch up with EU WDF initiative where the EU is deeply concerned about the high pollution rates found in groundwater, and lack of measures and even where-withall knowledge to protect them, as well as the impact of high pressure exacerbating this pollution.

    Stats about how polluted land is in the UK, as well as mediocre testing of ALL emissions including chemtrails, notwithstanding the VW scandal, are sadly lacking. Happily some organisations affected by current levels of pollution are forcing these stats, or lack of them, out into the open through lawsuits.

    We do know over 650 square kilometers of land is highly polluted in the UK. You only have to tour the EA listing of all hazards they have been called out to clear up to know how bad land and water pollution is in this country, and of course that is sans nuclear and radioactive stats which have to be kept secret due to ”national security” The EA is working with the EU on clean up methods for the future, but with fracking about to pollute land, water and groundwater, this initiative seems to have passed the radar of shareholders and politicians on a get rich quick rat race.

    Oil and gas, like water are public utilities, and now by law, have to share their data with the public instead of keeping it secret as in the past.

    • Radioactive waste water and other ”unpleasant materials” produced by fracking has been permitted to be disposed of back into aquifers the frackers have drilled.
      The potential for pollution is enormous as found in the US where this highly toxic fluid is proven to be entering the food chain.

      • Not in the UK Mar g. Drilling in SPZ1s is not permitted, and drilling through lower grades of aquifer is licenced with restrictions tha same as other potentally polluting industries.
        The fluid is not ‘highly toxic’ or even toxic. It is classed as radioactive water, and that needs treatment, to make sure the radionucleides do not cause pollution.

        To quote the Public Health England
        ‘direct application of the North American research to the UK situation is impossible because of the wide differences between the two countries. It is clear from experience in the US that emissions vary widely depending on the phase of development, operational practices, the geology, local topography and meteorology, and the types of activities and equipment on-site. PHE state that such variability makes direct application to the UK situation impossible. There are also different regulatory practices in the UK’.

      • YES YES YES in the UK Ken, I have an email from the EA telling me so. OK?

        Not only that Ken, why not take a look at all those pollutants, currently lying underground, currently naturally protected from migrating laterally and vertically by the shale about to be fracked open, not yet pre assessed, which will add to toxic levels of water only a small percentage of which can be reclaimed, before being re injected to pollute ten years after frackers have gone, as proven in scientific reports across the US????.

        In the UK Ken pouring excrement into the Thames isn’t permitted, nor is phone hacking, but look how well those regs work!!!

        By the way why not read hundreds of reports that show frack fluid is HIGHLY TOXIC?

        Here’s a quote in preface to just one Bamberger and Oswald report on toxicity linked to fracking:-

        At what point does preliminary evidence of harm become definitive evidence
        of harm? When someone says, “We were not aware of the dangers of these
        chemicals back then,” whom do they mean by we?
        —Sandra Steingraber, Living Downstream (Da Capo Press, 2010)

        Clearly Ken, you are one of the WE?

  4. The public are not going to go to they drilling site and ask for a glass of fracking fluid and drink it are they? Our drinking water are treated and regularly tested before distribution. This issue keep going back and forth. The best way to look at it is what is the epidemiological evidence associated with millions of fracked wells in the US.

    • http://thetyee.ca/News/2015/06/08/Water-Pollution-Fracking/
      One of the weaknesses of the new EPA study, one industry expert said, is that it doesn’t include state enforcement data as well as “studies and agency data that are highly relevant to the impacts of hydraulic fracturing activities on drinking water resources.”

      Given pre assessment of groundwater freshwater, springs, wells and boreholes doesn’t exist in this country, not to mention the fact that some emissions coming from many old wells and boreholes are not measured either, we have little confidence our government will be more truthful than the US.

      The best measure to protect yourself is to only buy from NZ where friends keep saying how sweet the rain tastes………………..don’t buy drinks from countries that have massive fracking, California now fracked, so wines from there are off my shopping list, as will be all Yorkshire drinks and water based products once fracking rolls out.

      • mar g – Perhaps you should also take New Zealand off your shopping list. A quick internet search shows that a lot of NZ water is heavily polluted, mostly with agricultural nitrates and phosphates (after all they produce a lot of milk, butter, lamb and wine). They are currently undergoing a massive clean up to try and reverse the downward trend in water quality across both islands.

    • OK TW…just found the updated report about the health risks and fracking:

      Click to access high_volume_hydraulic_fracturing.pdf

      Senior Research Scientists, Public Health Specialists, and Radiological Health Specialists spent approximately 4500 hours on this Review.

      Major Findings
      Summarized below are some of the environmental impacts and health outcomes potentially associated with HVHF activities:
      •Air impacts that could affect respiratory health due to increased levels of particulate matter, diesel exhaust, or volatile organic chemicals
      .( see current reports rolling out in Cal where a massive methane leak is continuing,, read the list of the harmed….)
      •Climate change impacts due to methane and other volatile organic chemical releases to the atmosphere.
      •Drinking water impacts from underground migration of methane and/or fracking chemicals associated with faulty well construction.
      •Surface spills potentially resulting in soil and water contamination

      Surfacewater contamination resulting from inadequate wastewater treatment.

      •Earthquakes induced during fracturing.

      •Community impacts associated with boom town economic effects such as increased vehicle traffic, road damage, noise, odor complaints, increased demand for housing and medical care, and stress.

      (Penning, 2014; Shonkoff, 2014; Werner, 2015).

  5. Oh and just for good measure, here’s a whole compendium of research about the hazards of fracking just in case anyone needs to know more about the science expertly produced in a country where masses of expertise has been gained. Your Weekend reading, better than the lies and spin published elsewhere…:

    Click to access PSR-CHPNY-Compendium-3.0.pdf

    • I am sure these are valid concerns and as with all industrial and human activities there are related risks that need regulatory measure and compliance.

  6. Google search,

    Breast Cancer UK fracking
    Breast Cancer action fracking

    To read their report on fracking dangers

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