By Stephen C. Webster on December 18, 2013

Chemicals used in the natural gas extraction process known as "fracking" pose significant threats to human health, including cancer, infertility and birth defects, according to a study published this week in the journal Endocrinology.

"More than 700 chemicals are used in the fracking process, and many of them disturb hormone function," study co-author Dr. Susan C. Nagel, of the University of Missouri School of Medicine, said in an advisory. "With fracking on the rise, populations may face greater health risks from increased endocrine-disrupting chemical exposure."

Researchers took water samples from the surface and deep below ground in areas with many gas drilling sites, and from areas with relatively few wells, then pinpointed in their samples 12 specific chemicals thought to cause endocrine disruption in the human body.

What the researchers found is revealing: water taken from Garfield County, Colorado, which has one of the country's highest concentrations of drilling sites, contained "moderate to high" levels of the dangerous chemicals. They also found "moderate" levels of the toxic chemicals in water taken from the Colorado river, which acts as a drainage basin for the area surrounding the wells. By comparison, very few contaminants were found in water samples taken in Boone County, Missouri, where few fracking wells can be found.

"Fracking is exempt from federal regulations to protect water quality, but spills associated with natural gas drilling can contaminate surface, ground and drinking water," Dr. Nagel added. "We found more endocrine-disrupting activity in the water close to drilling locations that had experienced spills than at control sites. This could raise the risk of reproductive, metabolic, neurological and other diseases, especially in children who are exposed to [the chemicals]."

The advocacy group Environment America reported in October that more than 82,000 fracking wells have been licensed in the U.S. since 2005, spreading the practice to sites in 17 states covering more than 360,000 acres. Environment America also calculated that all together, those wells produced 280 billion gallons of toxic wastewater in 2012 alone.

"At health clinics, we're seeing nearby residents experiencing nausea, headaches and other symptoms linked to fracking pollution," Pennsylvania toxicologist David Brown said in prepared text. "With billions of gallons of toxic waste coming each year, we're just seeing the 'tip of the iceberg' in terms of health risks."

Photo: Flickr user daveynin, creative commons licensed.

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By Wendell Berry

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more 
of everything ready made. Be afraid 
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery 
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card 
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something 
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know. 
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord. 
Love the world. Work for nothing. 
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it. 
Denounce the government and embrace 
the flag. Hope to live in that free 
republic for which it stands. 
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man 
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers. 
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.


Say that the leaves are harvested 
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus 
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion—put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come. 
Expect the end of the world. Laugh. 
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts. 
So long as women do not go cheap 
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy 
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep 
of a woman near to giving birth? 
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head 
in her lap. Swear allegiance 
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos 
can predict the motions of your mind, 
lose it. Leave it as a sign 
to mark the false trail, the way 
you didn’t go. Be like the fox 
who makes more tracks than necessary, 
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Wendell Berry is a poet, farmer, and environmentalist in Kentucky. This poem, first published in 1973, is reprinted by permission of the author and appears in his “New Collected Poems” (Counterpoint).

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