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Fracking wastes may be toxic, tests show

DENVER, Colo. — Fracking is a procedure used to extract oil or gas from deep underground. The process uses lots of water and lots of chemicals. This means it also produces lots of watery wastes. A series of new tests now show those wastes may be toxic.

Scientists found the wastewater can contain chemicals that alter the action of the body’s hormones. In mice exposed in the womb, the heart and reproductive tissues did not develop normally. Researchers described their new findings here on March 23 at the national meeting of the American Chemical Society.

Many energy companies around the world use hydraulic fracturing — or fracking — to release oil, and especially gas. (That gas usually comes from deposits of shale, a type of rock.) But this process has been controversial. Oil and gas companies inject chemicals deep into wells to flush out the gas and oil. Those chemicals can contaminate groundwater, some studies have shown.

For the new study, researchers worked with human cells and mice. First, they looked for signs in cells that the chemicals altered signaling by any of five different hormones. Hormones are natural chemicals produced by the body’s endocrine system. That system produces hormones that tell various tissues when to turn on or off a particular important action.

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