The implications for human health are "worrisome," say researchers.
A new study has uncovered a link between fracking chemicals in farm water and a rare birth defect in horses—which researchers say could serve as a warning about fracking and human infant health.
Credit: Paz Arando/Unsplash<p>They didn't find significant differences in the feed, soil, air, or blood and tissue samples from the two farms. But they did find a significant difference in the water: There were higher levels of four kinds of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs)—chemicals <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5134738/" target="_blank">commonly used in fracking</a>—in the water at the Pennsylvania farm that weren't seen in water at the New York farm. Those chemicals included fluoranthene, pyrene, 3,6-dimethylphenanthrene, and triphenylene, all of which have been linked to health problems in humans and animals.</p> <p>Following that discovery, the farmer installed a water filtration system, which brought the levels of PAHs in the water on the Pennsylvania farm down to levels comparable to those seen at the New York farm. After that, they saw a marked decrease in the birth of dysphagic foals: In 2014, 26 percent of all of the farmer's foals had been born dysphagic; in 2015, 41 percent were dysphagic; and in 2016, after the installation of the filtration system, the rate fell to 13 percent. </p> <p>The researchers believe the reduction in PAHs in the water, along with a reduction in the amount of time the mares were spending on the Pennsylvania farm during their pregnancy, led to the corresponding reduction in birth defects in the horses—though Mullen added that more research is needed to evaluate the toxicity of those chemicals at the levels they observed.</p> <p>"I think it's a bit soon to say that all farms should have filtration systems installed for their wells," she said, "but this study does provide at least preliminary evidence that well water in places with unconventional natural gas development can see increased levels of PAHs."</p> <p>A spokesperson for the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau told EHN the organization hasn't yet had time to fully review the study, but noted that "animal health is among the top priorities for Pennsylvania farmers, and scientific research plays a critical role in helping farmers develop practices to best care for their animals and understand factors that may affect their animals' health."</p> <p>Mullen said she believes the study adds to the growing body of literature linking fracking to problems with human fetal development. </p> <p>"Horses are often sentinels of health risks to humans," she said. "Right now we can only speculate that what we saw in these foals also translates to human health risk, but the implications are certainly worrisome."</p>