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Toxic fracking chemicals persist in the environment, polluting food and water while damaging public health


(NaturalNews) Another study has emerged showing just how enduring the negative impact caused by fracking on the environment actually is. The disturbing results show that toxic fracking chemicals remain in the environment for a very long time, compromising people's food and water for many years to come.

In the process of fracking, a mixture of water and chemicals is injected into the ground while drilling into formations of shale and rock to extract oil. The chemicals involved might be surfactants, corrosion inhibitors, toxic biocides, or slicking agents.

A group of researchers from Colorado State University (CSU) recently carried out a study to uncover where these chemicals end up after being accidentally spilled in the process of being transported to fracking sites or during gas and oil operations. The scientists are particularly concerned because many of these spills occur on agricultural lands or in their vicinity, where they can make their way into the food and water supply.

The researchers simulated spills with a reactor and studied the various chemical reactions involved as well as the breakdown of three of the fracking chemicals: the biocide that impedes pipe corrosion known as glutaraldehyde, the common surfactant polyethylene glycol (PEG), and the slicking agent polyacrylamide, which is used to help fracking fluid penetrate shale. The researchers eventually plan to test out these conclusions at real spill sites.

They looked at 838 hydraulic fracturing fluid spills in the state of Colorado during the year 2014, all of which entailed more than five barrels of fluid for well pad spills and more than one barrel for non-well pad spills. Their findings were published in the Environmental Science and Technology journal.

Combinations of chemicals can affect breakdown time

The researchers discovered that certain chemical combinations resulted in a slower breakdown. On its own, the PEG biodegrades completely in about 70 days, but it sticks around much longer when combined with glutaraldehyde. Even worse, a combination involving glutaraldehyde and the commonly used polyethylene glycol (PEG) did not break down at all in the presence of typical salt concentrations. The team is calling for further research to uncover various reactions between spilled chemicals and the environment.

Professor Thomas Borch of the College of Agricultural Sciences' Department of Soil and Crop Sciences, who was part of the team, stated: "Our motivation for doing this is because the chemicals often come up as mixtures. While you may see biodegradation of a surfactant under normal circumstances, if you spill that together with a biocide that kills bacteria, maybe you don't break that surfactant down as quickly. And that's exactly what we see. If chemicals don't degrade as quickly, it gives them more time to be transported to groundwater or sensitive surface water."

Millions of gallons of toxic wastewater dumped

A recent peer-reviewed study published in the same journal, Environmental Science and Technology, showed how thousands of fracking wastewater spills in North Dakota left rivers and streams heavily contaminated with radioactive materials, corrosive salts, and heavy metals.

Estimates show that more than 21,000 spills occurred during the years from 2009 to 2014, and the amount of toxic wastewater dumped in these incidents exceeds 180 million gallons! That's not even taking into account the spills that don't get reported, such as those that occur on tribal lands.

The spills can be partly attributed to the lack of monitoring by local and federal authorities as well as lax and outdated regulations.

In this study, one particular site that was examined still showed elevated concentrations of a number of different toxic substances four years after the spill took place. The sites that are contaminated with radium will be radioactive for thousands of years, according to the researchers.

People who live near fracking sites can send samples of their water to EPAWatch.org for free testing to find out how their water has been affected by this harmful practice.

If fracking practices continue unabated at their current pace, the widespread water and food pollution caused could become a significant public health issue.

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