Fracking and your health

This article is part of the fracking series put together by Frack Free LS26.

Hutton Energy has recently bought the license to complete exploratory fracking drills across south Leeds, including in Middleton and Belle Isle, and much of the surrounding area. This series of articles hopes to educate people about the risks of fracking, and to encourage people to support the local community campaigns against the industry.

The fracking process involves drilling deep holes into the ground and pumping them full of a mixture of chemicals, sand and water. This article focuses on the chemicals used in the process and what health issues are associated with them.

Yale School of Public Health researchers have analysed chemicals used in fracking, and those found in its wastewater. The team members found chemicals such as arsenic, benzene, cadmium, lead, formaldehyde, chlorine, and mercury, which are all known to cause health problems. Having analysed “240 substances, evidence suggested reproductive toxicity for 103 (43%), developmental toxicity for 95 (40%), and both for 41 (17%).” (Published in Journal of Exposure Science and Environmental Epidemiology)

But what does this actually mean?

Reproductive toxicity

This is the term used when there are pregnancy and birth defects. In Pennsylvania a study linked fracking in the community to a “40 percent increase in the likelihood of a woman giving birth before 37 weeks of gestation” (giving birth prematurely). There is also evidence to suggest babies are being born smaller, and with organs not as developed as expected.

Developmental toxicity

voc_logosMany of the chemicals known to be used in fracking are also known as volatile organic compounds (VOCs). We see warnings against these on paint, white spirit and industrial cleaning products:

The reason these labels exist is because short term exposure to them can cause eye, nose and throat irritation, headaches and nausea / vomiting. Even more worrying, long term exposure can cause cancer, liver damage and kidney damage.


Fracking doesn’t just affect the health of humans; it affects every animal in the surrounding area. One study into the deaths of cows found that “around 70 in Pennsylvania [had] died after 140 of them were reportedly exposed to frack wastewater – of the survivors, less than a dozen produced calves, only three of which survived.” Fracking on farmland can have devastating effects on the livestock. What concerns me too is that fracking is such a new industry; we don’t have information on how it might affect us if we drink the milk from these cows, or eat that beef, and by the time we do have that information, it may be too late.
I hope this article helps explain the health concerns associated with fracking. All of the health problems mentioned are current issues affecting people in America and Australia where fracking has been established for a number of years.

Please look out for future articles in the Fracking series.


If you are interested in participating in the Anti-fracking campaigns please join one of the following:

Frack Free Leeds (also the point of call if you want to set up a local group):;

Frack Free LS26 (Woodlesford / Oulton based):

If you’re an engineer (all disciplines welcome) please join a new venture to get a national, professional campaign against fracking. Engineers against Fracking:


This post was written by Becky Ford using our Create an article for South Leeds Life page.


One Reply to “Fracking and your health”

  1. You say: ‘What concerns me too is that fracking is such a new industry we don’t have information on how it might affect us if we drink the milk from [ ] cows, or eat [their] beef, and by the time we do have that information, it may be too late’.

    First, fracking is not a new industry. The first fracked well was in Kansas 1947. 2.5 million wells worldwide have been fracked since, including 200 gas wells in the UK. It is standard practice.

    Secondly, Public Health England reported that the risks to public health from fracking are low. And any problems publicised so far in the US are the result of operational failure or poor regulation. The report draws on American research to conclude that though pollutants can enter the air from gas flares or leaks, “these emissions are relatively small, intermittent and certainly not unique to shale gas extraction”. The PHE report acknowledged that extracting shale gas could produce residues containing naturally-occurring radioactive materials – but that these risks would be similar to those in the existing oil and gas industry.

    As far as contaminating the water supply goes, that only happens if the wells themselves are poorly constructed. Given that restrictions currently in place in the UK are far more prohibitive than those in the US, and that there have been very few instances of water contamination in the US anyway, the risk to UK water supplies is negligible.

    The best improvement to health is economic growth, which the greens favour little of if any. Of course, such attitudes are not popular with the general public which wants rising living standards, the jobs fracking may offer, and plentiful cheap energy so instead you resort to cheap scar-mongering and the politics of fear.

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