Fracking, the controversial method of extracting oil and gas from shale, is now linked to multiple sclerosis and other diseases.
Environmentalists have long opposed the process. Now, researchers have established a connection between fracking chemicals and immune system diseases including MS.
The study, “Developmental Exposure to a Mixture of 23 Chemicals Associated With Unconventional Oil and Gas Operations Alters the Immune System of Mice,” was published in the journal Toxicological Sciences.
‘Unconventional oil and gas extraction’ is the formal term for the process that is popularly known as fracking.
In short, the new study in mice suggests that exposure to fracking chemicals during pregnancy may aggravate MS severity and induce an earlier start of symptoms.
Fracking involves pumping millions of gallons of chemical-filled water underground to fracture rock and release oil and gas. In fracking-dense areas, as many as 200 chemicals have been identified in groundwater. Studies have described higher rates of asthma attacks and diseases such as acute lymphocytic leukemia among those living in these areas.
Of the fracking chemicals found in groundwater, some could conceivably have come from other sources. However, 23 were recently associated with developmental and reproductive impairments in mice. These chemicals were classified as endocrine disrupters, which means they can interfere with hormones.
Early exposure linked to immune damage
Hormones have a critical affect on the immune system, so scientists in this study evaluated the immune impact of these fracking chemicals. They added chemicals to the drinking water of pregnant mice at levels equivalent to those found in groundwater near fracking areas.
The study’s lead author and chair of environmental medicine at the University of Rochester Medical Center , Paige Lawrence PhD, said: “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.”
Researchers wrote: “These observations suggest that developmental exposure to complex mixtures of water contaminants, such as those derived from UOG operations, could contribute to immune dysregulation and disease later in life.”
The study authors believe that fracking chemicals disrupt cellular pathways which affect the immune system.
They wrote that further research could help to inform biomedical scientists, healthcare professionals, policymakers, and the public on the effects of fracking on health.
The question I must ask is why oil and gas companies, as well as governments around the world, insist frackng is a good idea. It’s about time that we blocked any process that can inflict harm. If they cannot be proved to be safe, or include steps to eliminate dangers, ban them. We live with enough health risks already.
Do we really need any more? I think not.
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50shadesofsun.com is the personal website of Ian Franks, a freelance medical writer and editor for various health information sites. He enjoyed a successful career as a journalist, from reporter to editor in the print media. He gained a Journalist of the Year award in his native UK. Ian received a diagnosis of MS in 2002 and now lives in the south of Spain. He uses a wheelchair and advocates on mobility and accessibility issues.
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