Researchers obtained samples from fracked oil and gas production sites in Garfield County, Colo. (above), and Fayette County, W.Va., in 2014. They found exposure to chemicals and wastewater from fracking leads to elevated fat cell development, according to a lab study. Photo courtesy of Duke's Nicholas School of the Environment
June 21 (UPI) -- Living mice cells exposed to chemicals and wastewater from hydraulic fracturing sites possess elevated fat cell development, according to a lab study.
Duke University researchers led a study of fat cells, or adipogenesis, from samples obtained from oil and gas production sites in Garfield County, Colo., and Fayette County, W.Va., in 2014. Their findings were published Thursday in the journal Science of the Total Environment.
More than 1,000 chemicals are used for hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking, in the United States. In lab testing, many of them act as endocrine-disrupting chemicals in cell and animal tests, according to the researchers.
In a mixture of 23 commonly used fracking chemicals, the researchers found increases in the size and number of fat cells after exposing living mouse cells to the mixture.
"We saw significant fat cell proliferation and lipid accumulation, even when wastewater samples were diluted 1,000-fold from their raw state and when wastewater-affected surface water samples were diluted 25-fold," study leader Dr. Chris Kassotis, a postdoctoral research associate at Duke's Nicholas School of the Environment, said in a press release. "Rather than needing to concentrate the samples to detect effects, we diluted them and still detected the effects," he said.
In previous lab studies, the researchers observed that rodents exposed during gestation to 23 fracking chemicals are more likely to experience metabolic, reproductive and developmental problems, including increased weight.
In the new research, laboratory cultures of mouse cells were exposed to these waters at varying concentrations or dilutions over two weeks.
Other cells were exposed to rosiglitazone, a pharmaceutical known to activate fat cells and cause weight gain in humans.
The 23-chemical mix led to about 60 percent as much fat accumulation as the pharmaceutical. The diluted wastewater samples led to 80 percent as much and the diluted surface water samples induced about 40 percent.
In all three cases, the pre-adipocytes, or precursor fat cells, were much greater in cell models exposed to the chemicals or water samples than in those exposed to the rosiglitazone.
Kassotis said further research will be needed to assess whether similar effects occur in humans or animals who drink or come into physical contact outside the laboratory.