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Toxic chemicals can seep into water systems because of hydraulic fracturing. Credit: Madison Valerio

A new app created by researchers at Penn Medicine allows users to find out if there may be toxins in their water caused by fracking. 

The WellExplorer app and its website instruct users to input their zip codes to discover well sites near their locations that might be leaking toxic chemicals into their water systems. 

“Not only does WellExplorer display the chemical ingredients used in nearby hydraulic fracturing wells, it also links these ingredients to genes, proteins, and hormonal pathways, as well as national toxin rankings and databases, thus making it an exceedingly effective and useful resource," the WellExplorer website reads.

Hydraulic fracturing, the scientific name for fracking, involves injecting chemicals into the bedrock formation to release natural gas, according to the WellExplorer website. This can cause potentially toxic chemicals to seep into water systems. 

The Penn Medicine team also published a study in Database, a scientific journal, finding that fracking wells in Illinois, Ohio, and Pennsylvania use a large number of ingredients that target testosterone pathways.

In addition to benefitting individuals worried about drinking toxic water, WellExplorer could help researchers to study the effects of fracking toxins on community health.

Users can choose to input their zip code into the WellExplorer app or website. Mary Regina Boland — an assistant professor of informatics at Penn Medicine and a leader of the study — posted a video to her YouTube walking users through how to use the WellExplorer app. 

The WellExplorer website provides information about hopes for the project’s implications around the country.

“This application, while primarily meant to inform users, is also intended to be a stepping stone towards more in depth research and analysis about the biological — and more specifically, fertility — effects of hydraulic fracturing wells," the website reads.

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