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Your Environment. Your Health.

Early-life Exposure to Fracking Chemicals May Damage Immune System

B. Paige Lawrence, Ph.D.
University of Rochester Medical Center
R01ES023260, R01ES004862, T32ES07026, P30ES01247

Prenatal exposure to chemicals used in unconventional oil and gas (UOG) extraction, also known as fracking, affected immune system development in mice, according to a new study by NIEHS grantees. The study provided the first evidence that early-life exposure to a mixture of 23 commonly used UOG chemicals may hinder the ability to ward off diseases later in life.

Researchers added the UOG mixture or a control substance without UOG chemicals to the drinking water of pregnant mice. Chemical doses were equivalent to exposure estimates from levels detected in groundwater in UOG production regions. After the pups were born, the team analyzed outcomes related to infections, allergies, and autoimmune diseases.

The researchers reported that developmental exposure led to several changes in the cells of the immune system and affected the composition and function of T cells, which are essential to clearing infections, including many caused by viruses. These effects on T cells were more severe in female offspring. Prenatal exposure to the UOG mixture also expedited and worsened autoimmune disease symptoms in female but not male offspring.

According to the authors, their results suggested that developmental exposure to UOG chemicals may lead to long-lasting changes in the mouse immune system, particularly in females, and more research is needed to examine the potential risk of immune dysfunction in people living near UOG operations.

Citation: Boule LA, Chapman TJ, Hillman SE, Kassotis CD, O’Dell C, Robert J, Georas SN, Nagel SC, Lawrence BP. 2018. Developmental exposure to a mixture of 23 chemicals associated with unconventional oil and gas operations alters the immune system of mice. Toxicol Sci 163(2):639-654.


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