Chemical Used in Fracking Can Lead to Infertility in Men

Researchers have raised concerns about a chemical used in hydraulic fracturing. They believe the chemical, called Genapol-X100, is a environmental and health hazard and may lead to infertility in men by disrupting testicular and prostate development.

The research has been accepted for presentation at ENDO 2020, the Endocrine Society’s annual meeting, and publication in a special supplemental section of the Journal of the Endocrine Society.

Hydraulic fracturing, commonly referred to as fracking, is a well-stimulation technique that is used to drill fractures in the rock. It is a developmental process designed to recover oil and natural gas from shale rock and involves water, sand, and chemicals under high pressure into a bedrock formation through the well.

The chemicals being used in the process of drilling or hydraulic fracturing may disrupt the functioning of male reproductive hormones as well as every person who is involved in this process. The substances of chemicals pollute the surroundings including a lake, groundwater, and wastewater.

Source: Penn State

The researchers from the University of California used a structure-based molecular docking, a powerful approach of bioinformatic modeling that involves two or more molecules to make a stable abduct. This process is used to determine the 60 hydraulic fracturings (HF) chemicals used in California that can affect male reproductive hormones and to see the ability of androgen receptor to bind with other cells in the body.

The team found out that five of the HF chemicals showed relatively high involvement in the interference with androgen receptors.

The investigators also measured the androgenic and anti-androgenic activities of these chemicals. As a result, a significant reduction of 22% has been seen in one of the five HF chemicals. The chemical involved in the reduction was called Genapol-X100 which is one of the long-chain polymers that do not dissociate. This white waxy chemical is mainly used in detergents, industrial and institutional cleaning formulations, in emulsion polymerization and as a substance that stabilizes an emulsion for silicon oils. The team found that Genapol-X100 can affect the transactivation of androgen receptors and has the capacity to disrupt the functioning of androgen.

Structural Effects of Genapol-X100 on Androgen Receptors

To better understand the structure based effects of Genapol-X100 on the inhibition of androgen receptors, the researchers made a comparison between the anti-androgenic activity of Genapol-X100 with a similar chemical called Genapol-X080. The results indicated that Genapol-X100 was stronger and more powerful in holding back the effects of androgen receptors than Genapol-X080.

Furthermore, the team investigated how these two chemicals affect the inhibition of androgen receptors in vitro. They found out that both chemicals inhibited androgen receptors through a non-competitive binding mechanism which means the inhibitor shares the same affinity for both chemicals. As a result, HF chemicals were considered to be novel noncompetitive AR antagonists which are a substance that inhibits the physiological action of another.

The lead researcher of the study, Phum Tachachartvanich, Ph.D., of the University of California, Davis in Davis, California, says:

Possible adverse health outcomes associated with anti-androgen exposure are abnormal reproductive function, male infertility and disrupted testicular and prostate development.

Hydraulic Fracturing Impacts on Environment and Human Health

Contaminated water and polluted air are the top risks to human health caused by HF which can be a reason for high potent oil spills damaging the land. It may also cause earthquakes because high pressure is needed to extract the oil and natural gas from the land.

Source: Pembina Institute

HF can result in respiratory problems, birth defects, blood disorder, cancer and problems of the nervous system for the surrounding workers and people that live in that area.

Tachachartvanich says:

The widespread use of fracking has led to concerns of potential negative impacts on both the environment and human health. Everyone should be concerned about fracking as the wastewater generated has potential endocrine-disrupting effects which can adversely affect the general population.

There are some methods that can be followed to make the HF cleaner and less harmful to the surroundings. They include using less-water, replacement of diesel power equipment and also freshwater with recycled water, and purification of wastewater that contains harmful chemicals.

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