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Pennsylvania creek contaminated with high levels of radioactive material from oil and gas wastewater

Amy Mall

Posted May 13, 2014

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This news was first published six months ago, but I thought it was important and still blogworthy.

Back in October,  Bloomberg reported on a new peer-reviewed, published scientific paper documenting radioactive material found in Pennsylvania's Blacklick Creek, which flows into the Allegheny River. 

Sediment in the creek "contained radium in concentrations 200 times above normal, or background levels." The radium came from a water treatment plant that treats wastewater from oil and gas operations.

According to one of the lead scientists, Avner Vengosh of Duke University, “The absolute levels that we found are much higher than what you allow in the U.S. for any place to dump radioactive material. The radium will be bio-accumulating. You eventually could get it in the fish.”

Another lead scientist, Nathaniel Warner of Dartmouth College, said, “This could be a long-term legacy of radioactivity.”

In another study by the same team of scientists, a Pennsylvania pond contaminated by a shale gas wastewater spill in 2009 was found to have sediment with radioactivity above safe levels--even after reclamation was supposedly completed.

While EPA has stated it will be issuing guidelines for discharges of fracking wastewater into rivers and streams, we have yet to see the draft. Additionally, EPA has said it will only be issuing guidelines for wastewater from shale wells, not from all oil and gas wells. EPA needs to act swiftly and comprehensively if it is truly going to protect U.S. waters from the radioactive and other toxic materials that are released by drilling and fracking.

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Michael BerndtsonMay 13 2014 08:37 PM

Amy, you are right to stay on this.

fwiw, here's a interesting document dump from google searching, in chronological order, concerning the plant in question and the issue of concern.

March 2011:
EPA Contaminant Characterization of Effluent from Josephine Brine

April 2011
Written Testimony of Conrad Daniel Volz, DrPH, MPH, Before the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works and its Subcommittee on Water and Wildlife, Joint Hearing “Natural Gas Drilling, Public Health and Environmental Impacts”, April 12, 2011

September 2011
US EPA: Administrative Order for Compliance and Request for Information EPA Docket No. CWA-03-2011-0274DN

November 2012:
Presentation on Josephine Brine Plant: "Challenges and Emerging Practices for the Treatment of Natural Gas Fluids"

March 2013:
US EPA Region 3 Consent Agreement and Final Order

October 2013
Impacts of Shale Gas Wastewater Disposal on Water Quality in Western Pennsylvania

February 2014:
Radionuclides in Fracking Water, NIH EPH report

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