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Does Fracking Reduce Sperm Count?

New research suggests fracking damages the reproductive health of both sexes.
(Photo: Joshua Doubek/Wikimedia Commons)

(Photo: Joshua Doubek/Wikimedia Commons)

Attention men: You might want to move far, far way from any fracking sites. A new study published in the the journal Endocrinology shows that male mice exposed to fracking chemicals have lower sperm counts in adulthood.

"This study is the first to demonstrate that [endocrine-disrupting chemicals, or EDCs,] commonly used in fracking, at levels realistic for human and animal exposure in these regions, can have an adverse effect on the reproductive health of mice," wrote the study's lead author, University of Missouri professor Susan C. Nagel, in a press release. "These findings may have implications for the fertility of men living in regions with dense oil and/or natural gas production."

To bypass trade secrets that allow oil and gas companies to refrain from disclosing fracking chemicals, researchers instead tested wastewater samples from fracking sites in Garfield County, Colorado. Using the 16 chemicals they identified in those samples, in addition to existing literature on fracking, Nagel and her team created a mixture of 23 different fracking chemicals. That concoction was then administered to mice throughout the course of their pregnancy so that researchers could observe the effects on their male babies. The mixture mirrored chemical levels that human are likely exposed to from wastewater or drinking water contaminated with fracking fluids.

Male mice prenatally exposed to the fracking chemicals had decreased sperm counts, bigger testicles, and higher testosterone levels than mice in the study's control group. All but one of the chemicals were found to be EDCs, which can mimic or block the body's natural hormones, like testosterone. Exposure to EDCs has been linked to birth defects, diabetes, cancer, and obesity.

New research also links proximity to fracking in Pennsylvania to premature birth. According to a study published in Epidemiology, a quarter of women who lived closest to fracking operations were 40 percent more likely to give birth pre-term than the quarter of participants least exposed to fracking throughout the course of the research.

All this is to say, fracking might have some major reproductive implications.