Chemicals used in oil and gas extraction harmful to reproductive health

Review of more than 150 studies shows evidence of ill effects on human health

By Jemima Rohekar
Published: Wednesday 10 December 2014

Representational image of a drilling rig (Photo courtesy: Wikipedia)

Exposure to chemicals used in unconventional oil and natural gas (UOG) operations affects fertility in men and women and impairs healthy growth of foetuses, researchers have concluded after reviewing more than 150 studies on their effects on human health.

Their review titled “Reproductive and Developmental Effects of Chemicals Associated with Unconventional Oil and Natural Gas Operations” was published in peer-reviewed journal Reviews on Environmental Health.

The review suggests that more than 15 million people living within one mile of UOG operations in the US and millions more around the world are at the greatest risk.

It explains how several million litres of water and chemicals are pumped into the ground under pressure to enable release of oil and gas. More than 750 chemicals are used in the process and these include 13 known or suspected carcinogens and known developmental neurotoxicants. People living in the vicinity are exposed to the resulting air and water pollution.

“We found that previous studies suggest that adult and early life exposure to chemicals associated with UOG operations can result in adverse reproductive health and developmental defects in humans,” says Susan C Nagel, a researcher with the University of Missouri and one of the authors of the review, according to this report on the university website.

Some of the health effects of exposure to these chemicals include:
  • Low sperm count, reduced sperm motility in men
  • Abnormal menstrual cycle lengths in women
  • Difficulty in conceiving, miscarriage and still births in women
  • Preterm birth, low birth weight and congenital birth defects in infants

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