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Doctor's Orders: Chemicals Need to Frack-off

Avoiding alcohol and caffeine are standard recommendations for a pregnant women. No surprise there! The simple and effective way of keeping infants safe is stripping the environment toxins that cause low birth weight, birth defects, respiratory problems, cancer and fertility problems. Yet the most common substances used to frack for natural gas are cancer-causing agents.

The statistics are startling; according to a new report by the Center for Environmental Health, 25 percent of chemicals used in fracking have been linked to cancer, and 35 percent of chemicals used in fracking disrupt the normal functioning of our hormones. As a result, the fracking chemicals have significantly higher impacts on pregnant women and children. Communities in geographic proximity to the industry boom are exposed to many of the 600+ chemicals used in natural gas fracking fluids.

With environmental and public health loopholes on the rise, industries are dumping pollutants into communities faster than the government agencies can say “no.” Residents living closer to natural gas wells are found to have higher risks for cancer, breathing problems and nervous system problems based on exposure to pollutants when compared to residents who live farther from wells.

Toxins seep into water tables and evaporate into the air—resulting in detrimental and sometimes deadly consequences, putting children and pregnant women at higher risks. Some of the worst are:

Benzene, Toluene, Ethylbenzene, and Xylene

  • The well-known quartet of chemicals makes a regular appearance in fracking fluids, with an estimated 11.4 million gallons used within a 4-year span.
  • This mixture is known to cause low birth weight, decreased head size and spina bifida.

Nitrogen Oxides, Particulate Matter and Ozone

  • The diesel exhaust from heavy machinery and big-rigs produce harmful gas and fine particulate matter.
  • Low birth weight is an indicator of infant health and long-term outcomes; including delayed motor skills, delayed social development, and learning disabilities - are all linked to high ozone exposure. Ozone can also worsen asthma and emphysema.

Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs)

  • These substances easily evaporate and become airborne and are found near fracking sites.
  • In addition to low birth weight, VOCs are correlated to severe respiratory problems, including asthma.


  • Silica sand is used to prop open shale fissures to allow the gas to flow out.
  • Simply breathing in silica can cause silicosis, a disease leading to premature death and also contributes to other diseases such as kidney and autoimmune diseases, according to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.


  • Found in Marcellus shale flowback samples, arsenic can be found in wastewater from fracking.
  • Health problems associated with arsenic are stomach pain, nausea, partial paralysis and blindness.

Exemptions for hydraulic fracturing under United States Federal Law include the Clean Water Act, Clean Air Act, Safe Drinking Water Act, National Environmental Policy Act, Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, the Emergency Planning Community Right-to-Know Act, and Superfund. Earthjustice continues to fight to protect mothers and children from health problems associated with fracking by representing communities banning natural gas development within their borders, as well as promoting clean energy sources that are safe.