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Persistent Pollutants

PFAS used in fracking fluids in US, report says

by Cheryl Hogue
July 18, 2021 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 99, Issue 26


Photo shows heavy machinery at a fracking operation.
Credit: Shuttertock
Some fracking sites have used drilling fluids that contain PFAS, a report from Physicians for Social Responsibility finds.

Synthetic chemicals that are highly resistant to breakdown and may be toxic have been injected into more than 1,200 natural gas and oil wells in the US since 2012, the advocacy group Physicians for Social Responsibility says in a report. Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) have been used in fracking, which are drilling operations that deploy a mixture of water, sand, and chemicals under pressure to fracture underground geologic formations and reach trapped oil or gas, the report says. Some PFAS are linked to cancer and other health problems. The report finds that the PFAS­—or compounds that could break down to PFAS—most commonly named as ingredients in fracking fluids are listed in the national fracking chemical disclosure registry only generically as “nonionic fluorosurfactant.” It cites concerns about the spread of PFAS into the environment via water and other fluids released from fracking wells. Physicians for Social Responsibility calls for toxicity studies of PFAS used in fracking fluids, environmental testing to see if PFAS have spread to areas near wells, and public disclosure of fracking and drilling chemicals before wells are built.


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