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Fracking the Immune System

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Amid predictions of a second fracking boom in the U.S., the first evidence that chemicals found in ground water near fracking sites can impair the immune system was published today in Toxicological Sciences. The study, performed in mice, suggests that exposure to fracking chemicals during pregnancy may diminish female offspring's ability to fend off diseases, like multiple sclerosis.

Fracking, also called hydraulic fracturing or unconventional oil and gas extraction, involves pumping millions of gallons of chemical-laden water deep underground to fracture rock and release oil and gas. About 200 chemicals have been measured in waste water and surface or ground water in fracking-dense regions and several studies have reported higher rates of diseases, like acute lymphocytic leukemia and asthma attacks, among residents in these areas.

"Our study reveals that there are links between early life exposure to fracking-associated chemicals and damage to the immune system in mice," said Paige Lawrence, Ph.D., chair of Environmental Medicine at the University of Rochester Medical Center, who led the study. "This discovery opens up new avenues of research to identify, and someday prevent, possible adverse health effects in people living near fracking sites."

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