New interactive app detects water toxicity

It has been shown that the presence in drinking water of substances used in hydraulic fracturing increases the risk of respiratory diseases, premature birth, congenital heart defects, and other negative health effects. But not all wells are created equal. Because of the diverse mix of chemical ingredients used at different fracture sites, individuals and researchers are often unaware of the exact health implications of a particular well site. Now, a new interactive tool, created by researchers at Penn Medicine Institute, allows ordinary people and scientists to quickly learn what toxins may be lurking in their drinking water as a result of hydraulic fracturing. Development is reported by the Database log.

By entering their zip code into the WellExplorer website or companion app, every US resident can view the closest fracture locations in their state and find out what chemicals are being used at those sites, as well as view their toxicity levels.

The creators of the WellExplorer app found, for example, that wells in Alabama use a disproportionate amount of ingredients that affect estrogen levels, while Illinois, Ohio, and Pennsylvania use a large number of ingredients that affect testosterone. The information obtained with the WellExplorer can be especially relevant to people using private water wells. This is a common occurrence in rural Pennsylvania, as homeowners may not do or order serious water tests for fracturing chemicals.

“The chemical mixtures used in fracturing are known to regulate hormonal pathways, including testosterone and estrogen, and therefore can affect human development and fertility. Knowledge of these chemicals is important not only for researchers who may be studying the health effects in the community but also for people who may want to know more about the possible health effects depending on their proximity to the well.

Mary Regina Boland, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Department of Computer Science, Perelman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania

In addition to gathering information for individuals, WellExplorer can also be used as an important tool for environmental scientists, epidemiologists, and other researchers to establish the link between specific health effects and proximity to a specific fractured well.

WellExplorer can be obtained free of charge from or downloaded from the Apple App Store.

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