Exposure to fracking chemicals and wastewater spurs fat cell development

June 21, 2018, Duke University
Duke scientists used cells in culture to test samples of fracking wastewater and contaminated surface water. On the left, a drug called rosiglitazone is known to create fat cells and cause weight gain. On the right, diluted fracking wastewater. Yellow marks accumulation of fat within cells. Blue marks new fat cells being created. Credit: Chris Kassotis, Duke University

Exposure to fracking chemicals and wastewater promotes fat cell development, or adipogenesis, in living cells in a laboratory, according to a new Duke University-led study.

Researchers observed increases in both the size and number of fat after exposing living in a dish to a mixture of 23 commonly used fracking chemicals. They also observed these effects after exposing the cells to samples of from fracked oil and gas wells and believed to be contaminated with the wastewater. The findings appear June 21 in Science of the Total Environment.

"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 samples were diluted 25-fold," said Chris Kassotis, a postdoctoral research associate at Duke's Nicholas School of the Environment, who led the study.

"Rather than needing to concentrate the samples to detect effects, we diluted them and still detected the effects," he said.

Previous lab studies by Kassotis and his colleagues have shown that rodents exposed during gestation to the mix of 23 fracking chemicals are more likely to experience metabolic, reproductive and developmental health impacts, including increased weight gain.

Kassotis said further research will be needed to assess whether similar effects occur in humans or animals who drink or come into physical contact with affected surface waters outside the laboratory.

More than 1,000 different chemicals are used for hydraulic fracturing across the United States, many of which have been demonstrated through laboratory testing to act as in both cell and animal models.

To conduct this study, Kassotis and colleagues collected samples of fracking wastewater and wastewater-contaminated surface water near unconventional (aka, fracked) oil and gas production sites in Garfield County, Colorado, and Fayette County, West Virginia, in 2014.

Laboratory cultures of mouse cells were then exposed to these waters at varying concentrations or dilutions over a two-week period. The researchers measured how fat cell development in the cultures was affected. They performed similar tests exposing cell models to a mix of 23 fracking chemicals.

Within each experiment, other cells were exposed to rosiglitazone, a pharmaceutical known to be highly effective at activating and causing weight gain in humans.

The results showed that the 23- mix induced about 60 percent as much fat accumulation as the potent pharmaceutical; the diluted wastewater samples induced about 80 percent as much; and the diluted surface water samples induced about 40 percent as much.

In all three cases, the number of pre-adipocytes, or precursor , that developed was much greater in cell models exposed to the chemicals or water samples than in those exposed to the rosiglitazone.

The tests also provided insights into the mechanisms that might be driving these effects.

"Activation of the hormone receptor PPAR-gamma, often called the master regulator of fat cell differentiation, occurred in some samples, while in other samples different mechanisms such as inhibition of the thyroid or androgen receptor, seemed to be in play," Kassotis explained.

Explore further: Hormone-disrupting activity of fracking chemicals worse than initially found

More information: "Unconventional Oil and Gas Chemicals and Wastewater-Impacted Water Samples Promote Adipogenesis via PPARγ-Dependent and Independent Mechanisms in 3T3-L1 Cells," Christopher D. Kassotis, Susan C. Nagel and Heather M. Stapleton; Science of the Total Environment, June 21, 2018. DOI: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2018.05.030

Related Stories

Recommended for you

Archaeologists discover Incan tomb in Peru

February 16, 2019

Peruvian archaeologists discovered an Incan tomb in the north of the country where an elite member of the pre-Columbian empire was buried, one of the investigators announced Friday.

Where is the universe hiding its missing mass?

February 15, 2019

Astronomers have spent decades looking for something that sounds like it would be hard to miss: about a third of the "normal" matter in the Universe. New results from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory may have helped them ...

What rising seas mean for local economies

February 15, 2019

Impacts from climate change are not always easy to see. But for many local businesses in coastal communities across the United States, the evidence is right outside their doors—or in their parking lots.

The friendly extortioner takes it all

February 15, 2019

Cooperating with other people makes many things easier. However, competition is also a characteristic aspect of our society. In their struggle for contracts and positions, people have to be more successful than their competitors ...


Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

1.8 / 5 (5) Jun 21, 2018
More fake science.
Da Schneib
not rated yet Jun 21, 2018
Drinking frack water makes you fat.

That'll be popular.
3 / 5 (2) Jun 21, 2018
Hmmm exposure to hohos and mountain dew and slim jims also makes fat cells proliferate.

I think we are on to something here.
1 / 5 (3) Jun 21, 2018
Did someone actually pay for this nonsense research? It's got absolutely no value and no relevance to real-life outcomes.
not rated yet Jun 21, 2018
As these chemicals boost pre-cursor cells: then do they also promote certain cancers?

PPSC's have the least differentiation when harvested from fat tissues: These are the most useful for stem cell treatments. (severed Spinal nerves have been healed in the lab.) If these cells are being boosted to divide then is it good or bad for the organism exposed?
3 / 5 (4) Jun 21, 2018
Well, if there occurred an accusation that the preceding commentators are Martians?

Why would anyone believe their evidence that they are not Martians? Cause here it is on the internet! The accusation that they must be Martians. Thereforthwith the accusation must be more believable than any data they can produce to prove otherwise.

They said it themselves! The data is irrelevant, because the commentators do not want to believe it can be accurate.

That those producing the data in this article are corrupt and their analysis implausible. Cause the conclusions of the research conflict with the commentating Martians prejudices.

Tsk, tsk... All these illegal aliens running amuck. Abusing the pitiful innocence of phys.org. Should they be reported to immigration or homeland security?

Sure don't want none of "THEM" martians in my neighborhood dragging down house prices. Drive byes in their floating cars. Wildly shooting rayguns while swilling phobosshine.
1 / 5 (3) Jun 21, 2018
"Hmmm exposure to hohos and mountain dew and slim jims also makes fat cells proliferate. I think we are on to something here."

Yeah, . excuses for people who let themselves get fat.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.