Policy Update

Study: Researchers Simulate Chemical Spills to Determine Environmental Impact



NCEL Point of Contact


A research team at Colorado State University investigated how long chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing remain in the soil after a spill, and whether combining chemicals altered the longevity. Over 800 fluid spills were reported in Colorado in 2014, and these spills often take place on agricultural land. The longer a chemical takes to degrade, the more opportunity there is for crop uptake or groundwater contamination.

The study simulated spills from three organic chemicals and revealed that these chemicals can last anywhere from 70 days to six months when isolated. But when chemicals “co-contaminate” (that is, multiple are spilled at once) they stay in the soil much longer because the interaction inhibits the biodegradation process. The findings underscore the need for additional research as there are at least 700 chemicals used in fracking in the U.S., and follow-up studies could lead to a better understanding of how chemical spills will impact human health and the environment.