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Are Fracking Chemicals Causing Male Sterility?

Here's a story that will make men who want to be grandfathers a bit nervous. Continue reading →

Fracking - a process in which water, sand and chemicals are pumped into the earth to crack open deposits of gas and oil - has created an energy boom in the United States, but a lot of people are worried about whether it's contaminating our underground supply of drinking water.

The energy industry contends that the risks are minimal, but an EPA report released in June contained a more guarded assessment. The report conceded fracking had contaminated the water supply in some parts of the United States, but the impact "was small compared to the number of hydraulically fractured wells." Another potential danger, however is detailed in a new study that suggests fracking chemicals lead to male sterility.

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The study by researchers from several different universities, published in the scientific journal Endocrinology, found that prenatal exposure to a mixture of fracking chemicals, at levels found in the environment, lowered sperm counts in male mice when they reached adulthood.

The scientists tested 24 chemicals used in fracking and determined that all but one of them were endocrine-disrupting chemicals, or EDCs, which interfere with hormones, sometimes by mimicking or blocking them.

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Almost all of those chemicals disrupted the functions of estrogens, which are primarily female hormones but also are found in men. The chemicals also disrupted androgens, a group of primarily male sex hormones such as testosterone. In addition, more than 40 percent of the chemicals interfered with progestogens, another type of reproductive hormone, and glucocorticoids, which are involved in metabolism and stress "In addition to reduced sperm counts, the male mice exposed to the mixture of chemicals had elevated levels of testosterone in their blood and larger testicles," University of Missouri-Columbia researcher Susan C. Nagel said in a press release. "These findings may have implications for the fertility of men living in regions with dense oil and/or natural gas production."

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The scientists found mice that were exposed to the chemical mixtures prenatally had decreased sperm counts, smaller testes and increased testosterone levels compared to the control group.

"It is clear EDCs used in fracking can act alone or in combination with other chemicals to interfere with the body's hormone function," Nagel said. She called for more research to assess the reproductive impact of fracking chemicals.

A fracking site in the Midwestern United States offers safety warnings.

Take a tour of some of the most impressive geological features around the world, as

Earth Science Week

kicks off worldwide. Above, a special landform at Zhangye Danxia Landform Geological Park, in northwest China's Gansu Province, formed from reddish sandstone that has been eroded over time into a series of mountains surrounded by curvaceous cliffs and many unusual rock formations. Danxia translates to "rosy cloud."

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In Culebrita, part of the Culebra National Wildlife Refuge in Puerto Rico, visitors can relax in tidal pools that provide a jacuzzi-like bath -- and which capture small marine life at low tide.

Spectacular Undersea Photos From NOAA's Okeanos Explorer

Huge waves from the sea storm smash into the coast of Makurazaki, as Typhoon Vongfong barreled into Japan on Monday morning.

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These cascades are one of dozens along the River Skoga in Iceland.

VIDEO: How Much Trash is in the Ocean?

These natural sculptures in Ubon, Thailand, are made of sandstone that's thousands of years old. The “mushroom” shapes have been formed by wind and rain for centuries. They're called Sao Chaliang, which comes from the Thai word “sa liang” meaning stone pillar. Geologists believe that they're the remains of a dried up ocean that existed more than 1 million years ago.

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Mayon Volcano in the Philippines is currently in seeing a "soft eruption," officials there said Sunday.

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These naturally occurring limestone formations in Nambung National Park in Australia are called the Pinnacles. Rising above desert sand dunes, they were formed from the remains of seashells from an era when the area was full of marine life.

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