At TEDX we have published primary research and review articles on the impacts of unconventional oil and gas operations on health and the environment. We wrote the first peer-reviewed paper questioning the public health implications and identifying potential endocrine effects of chemicals used during hydraulic fracturing. Government and non-government organizations rely on our science in their efforts to protect human and ecological health.
Inspiring Collaboration: The Legacy of Theo Colborn’s Transdisciplinary Research on Fracking
Wylie S, Schultz K, Thomas D, Kassotis C, Nagel S. 2016. New Solut doi: 10.1177/1048291116666037.
This article describes Dr. Theo Colborn’s legacy of inspiring complementary and synergistic environmental health research and advocacy. Colborn, a founder of endocrine disruption research, also stimulated study of hydraulic fracturing (fracking). In 2014, the United States led the world in oil and gas production, with fifteen million Americans living within one mile of an oil or gas well. Colborn pioneered efforts to understand and control the impacts of this sea change in energy production. In 2005, her research organization The Endocrine Disruption Exchange (TEDX) developed a database of chemicals used in natural gas extraction and their health effects. This database stimulated novel scientific and social scientific research and informed advocacy by (1) connecting communities’ diverse health impacts to chemicals used in natural gas development, (2) inspiring social science research on open-source software and hardware for citizen science, and (3) posing new scientific questions about the endocrine-disrupting properties of fracking chemicals.
Twenty-Five Years of Endocrine Disruption Science: Remembering Theo Colborn
Kwiatkowski CF, Bolden AL, Liroff RA, Rochester JR, Vandenbergh JG. 2016. Environ Health Perspect 124:A151–A154; doi:10.1289/EHP746.
For nearly 30 years, Dr. Theo Colborn (1927–2014) dedicated herself to studying the harmful effects of endocrine-disrupting chemicals on wildlife, humans, and the environment. More recently, she extended this effort to address the health impacts of unconventional oil and gas development. Colborn was a visionary leader who excelled at synthesizing scientific findings across disciplines. Using her unique insights and strong moral convictions, she changed the face of toxicological research, influenced chemical regulatory policy, and educated the public. In 2003, Colborn started a nonprofit organization—The Endocrine Disruption Exchange (TEDX). As we celebrate the 25th anniversary of endocrine disruption science, TEDX continues her legacy of analyzing the extensive body of environmental health research and developing unique educational resources to support public policy and education. Among other tools, TEDX currently uses the systematic review framework developed by the National Toxicology Program at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, to answer research questions of pressing concern. In this article, we pay homage to the tenacious woman and the exemplary contribution she made to the field of environmental health. Recommendations for the future of the field are drawn from her wisdom.
New Look at BTEX: Are Ambient Levels a Problem?
Bolden AL, Kwiatkowski C, Colborn T. 2015. Environmental Science and Technology doi:10.1021/es505316f.
Benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, and xylene (BTEX) are retrieved during fossil fuel extraction and used as solvents in consumer and industrial products, as gasoline additives, and as intermediates in the synthesis of organic compounds for many consumer products. Emissions from the combustion of gasoline and diesel fuels are the largest contributors to atmospheric BTEX concentrations. However, levels indoors (where people spend greater than 83% of their time) can be many times greater than outdoors. In this review we identified epidemiological studies assessing the noncancer health impacts of ambient level BTEX exposure (i.e., nonoccupational) and discussed how the health conditions may be hormonally mediated. Health effects significantly associated with ambient level exposure included sperm abnormalities, reduced fetal growth, cardiovascular disease, respiratory dysfunction, asthma, sensitization to common antigens, and more. Several hormones including estrogens, androgens, glucocorticoids, insulin, and serotonin may be involved in these health outcomes. This analysis suggests that all four chemicals may have endocrine disrupting properties at exposure levels below reference concentrations (i.e., safe levels) issued by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. These data should be considered when evaluating the use of BTEX in consumer and industrial products and indicates a need to change how chemicals present at low concentrations are assessed and regulated.
An Exploratory Study of Air Quality Near Natural Gas Operations
Colborn T, Schultz K, Herrick L, and Kwiatkowski C. 2014. Hum Ecol Risk Assess 20(1):86-105.
This exploratory study was designed to assess air quality in a rural western Colorado area where residences and gas wells co-exist. Sampling was conducted before, during, and after drilling and hydraulic fracturing of a new natural gas well pad. Weekly air sampling for 1 year revealed that the number of non-methane hydrocarbons (NMHCs) and their concentrations were highest during the initial drilling phase and did not increase during hydraulic fracturing in this closed-loop system. Methylene chloride, a toxic solvent not reported in products used in drilling or hydraulic fracturing, was detected 73% of the time; several times in high concentrations. A literature search of the health effects of the NMHCs revealed that many had multiple health effects, including 30 that affect the endocrine system, which is susceptible to chemical impacts at very low concentrations, far less than government safety standards. Selected polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) were at concentrations greater than those at which prenatally exposed children in urban studies had lower developmental and IQ scores. The human and environmental health impacts of the NMHCs, which are ozone precursors, should be examined further given that the natural gas industry is now operating in close proximity to human residences and public lands.
Natural Gas Operations from a Public Health Perspective
Colborn T, Kwiatkowski C, Schultz K, Bachran M. 2011. Human and Ecological Risk Assessment 17(5):1039-1056.
The technology to recover natural gas depends on undisclosed types and amounts of toxic chemicals. A list of 944 products containing 632 chemicals used during natural gas operations was compiled. Literature searches were conducted to determine potential health effects of the 353 chemicals identified by Chemical Abstract Service (CAS) numbers. More than 75% of the chemicals could affect the skin, eyes, and other sensory organs, and the respiratory and gastrointestinal systems. Approximately 40–50% could affect the brain/nervous system, immune and cardiovascular systems, and the kidneys; 37% could affect the endocrine system; and 25% could cause cancer and mutations. These results indicate that many chemicals used during the fracturing and drilling stages of gas operations may have long-term health effects that are not immediately expressed. In addition, an example was provided of waste evaporation pit residuals that contained numerous chemicals on the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) and Emergency Planning and Community Right to Know Act (EPCRA) lists of hazardous substances. The discussion highlights the difficulty of developing effective water quality monitoring programs. To protect public health we recommend full disclosure of the contents of all products, extensive air and water monitoring, coordinated environmental/human health studies, and regulation of fracturing under the U.S. Safe Drinking Water Act.