A recent study adds to concerns over hydraulic fracturing by revealing links between exposure to fracking chemicals and damage to the immune systems of mice in utero. The study found that the mice offspring’s immune systems reacted abnormally to allergens and the flu, and the exposure lowered their ability to ward off diseases.

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A fracking rig in a field in Colorado

Study lead Paige Lawrence of the University of Rochester Medical Center said in a statement, “This discovery opens up new avenues of research to identify, and someday prevent, possible adverse health effects in people living near fracking sites.”

Millions of gallons of water laced with chemicals are pumped underground during fracking, to fracture rock and release fossil fuels. But many are worried that the chemicals in fracking water could contaminate groundwater, and multiple studies have reported higher disease rates in residents of fracking-dense areas. Asthma attacks and acute lymphocytic leukemia are among the ailments reported. The study, published this month in Toxicological Sciences, offers “the first evidence that chemicals found in ground water near fracking sites can impair the immune system.”

Related: Interactive map reveals site of fracking accidents across the US

Of around 200 chemicals found in groundwater in fracking-dense areas, 23 chemicals have been connected to reproductive and developmental defects in mice. University of Missouri School of Medicine associate professor and co-author Susan Nagel classified them as endocrine disrupters. The team added these 23 to drinking water for pregnant mice in amounts similar to what has been uncovered in groundwater close to fracking locations. They discovered offspring, especially female offspring, “had abnormal immune responses to several types of diseases later on, including an allergic disease and a type of flu. What was most striking: these mice were especially susceptible to a disease that mimics multiple sclerosis, developing symptoms significantly earlier than mice that were not exposed to the chemicals.”

The study may only apply to mice at this point, but the team plans to continue their research. Lawrence said, “Our goal is to figure out if these chemicals in our water impact human health, but we first need to know what specific aspects of health to look at, so this was a good place to start.”

+ University of Rochester Medical Center

+ Toxicological Sciences

Via Futurity

Images via Depositphotos and greensefa on Flickr