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Journal of Occupational and Environmental Hygiene. Vol. 12, Iss. 9, September 2015

Assessment of the Acute and Chronic Health Hazards of Hydraulic Fracturing Fluids


There is growing concern about how hydraulic fracturing affects public health because this activity involves handling large volumes of fluids that contain toxic and carcinogenic constituents, which are injected under high pressure through wells into the subsurface to release oil and gas from tight shale formations. The constituents of hydraulic fracturing fluids (HFFs) present occupational health risks because workers may be directly exposed to them, and general public health risks because of potential air and water contamination. Hazard identification, which focuses on the types of toxicity that substances may cause, is an important step in the complex health risk assessment of hydraulic fracturing. This article presents a practical and adaptable tool for the hazard identification of HFF constituents, and its use in the analysis of HFF constituents reported to be used in 2,850 wells in North Dakota between December 2009 and November 2013. Of the 569 reported constituents, 347 could be identified by a Chemical Abstract Service Registration Number (CASRN) and matching constituent name. The remainder could not be identified either because of trade secret labeling (210) or because of an invalid CASRN (12). Eleven public databases were searched for health hazard information on thirteen health hazard endpoints for 168 identifiable constituents that had at least 25 reports of use. Health hazard counts were generated for chronic and acute endpoints, including those associated with oral, inhalation, ocular, and dermal exposure. Eleven of the constituents listed in the top 30 by total health hazard count were also listed in the top 30 by reports of use. This includes naphthalene, which along with benzyl chloride, has the highest health hazard count. The top 25 constituents reportedly used in North Dakota largely overlap with those reported for Texas and Pennsylvania, despite different geologic formations, target resources (oil vs. gas), and disclosure requirements. Altogether, this database provides a public health tool to help inform stakeholders about potential health hazards, and to aid in the reformulation of less hazardous HFFs.


Bakken Shale Play, health hazards, hydraulic fracturing, hydraulic fracturing fluid, Toxicity

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