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    Hormone-disrupting chemicals linked to cancer, infertility and a slew of other health problems have been found in water samples collected at and near hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking," sites in Colorado, according to a new study published in the journal Endocrinology this week.

    Researchers say they found elevated levels of these chemicals -- known as endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs) -- in surface water and groundwater samples collected in the state's Garfield County, a fracking hotspot with more than 10,000 natural gas wells.

    Water samples taken from the Colorado River, a drainage basin for the region, were also found to have significantly higher-than-normal levels of EDCs, the researchers said.

    EDCs, which have the ability to interfere with normal hormone action, have been linked to a number of health issues. Last year, the World Health Organization issued a report highlighting the health risks associated with the chemicals, including cancer, infertility and impaired neural and immune function. Previous studies have also suggested that EDCs may have adverse effects on the reproductive system in both women and men.

    "With fracking on the rise, populations may face greater health risks from increased endocrine-disrupting chemical exposure," Susan Nagel, a veteran endocrinologist at the University of Missouri School of Medicine, told the Los Angeles Times. Nagel was the lead author of the recent study on fracking and EDCs.

    In 2010 and again in 2012, Nagel and a team of researchers collected several water samples at five natural gas sites in Garfield County, where fracking wastewater spills are known to have occurred in the last few years. The researchers then tested the samples for four different classes of EDCs. "Of the 39 unique water samples, 89 percent, 41 percent, 12 percent, and 46 percent exhibited estrogenic, anti-estrogenic, androgenic, and anti-androgenic activities, respectively," the report says. The team also gathered water samples from the Colorado river, as well as from areas in Garfield County that are located a significant distance away from natural gas wells. Other samples came from an area in Missouri where there is no fracking.

    The researchers said water samples collected from the spill sites and the Colorado river had significantly higher levels of EDCs than those gathered from the control sites in Garden County and Missouri.

    Water can contain small amounts of estrogenic substances naturally. However, "Nagel said that although estrogenic substances can be found naturally occurring in water, she did not know of similar sources of anti-estrogenic or anti-androgenic chemicals," the Times reports.
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