Fracturing Blamed for Pennsylvania Creek Radiation Levels
According to officials in Pennsylvania, Blacklick Creek, a tributary of the Conemaugh River that flows into the Allegheny River, contained radium concentrations that were 200 times above the normal radiation levels. The radium discovered, along with salts such as bromide, were linked to the Josephine Brine Treatment Facility located 45 miles east of Pittsburgh. The treatment facility handles wastewater from oil and gas drilling projects in the area.
Higher than Allowed
According to Avner Vengosh, a professor at the Nicholas School of the Environment at Duke University, the levels of radium were significantly higher than what the Environmental Protection Agency would allow any company handling radioactive material to dump in one location. Because radium is bio-accumulating, Vengosh said the substance could eventually be found in fish. Radium occurs naturally and can accumulate in plants and fish, eventually being transferred to humans. Bromide is not toxic by itself, but when combined with drinking water disinfectants at treatment plants, it can produce cancer-causing compounds.
Environmentalists blame hydraulic fracturing (also known as fracking) for contaminated streams and private water wells when wastewater-holding ponds spill or when there is a faulty gas well that leads to leaks. The report showing the higher levels of radiation in Blacklick Creek indicates the need for further protection standards for the treatment of wastewater used in the fracking process. The procedure requires many millions of gallons of water, which has been treated with chemicals and sand, to be forced into underground rock to free trapped gas. Experts say that as much as 80 percent of the water returns to the surface, contaminated with radium and salts, that include sodium, calcium, magnesium, chlorine and bromide. Pennsylvania has used water treatment in the oil and gas industry for decades, but with fracking, the amount of water sometimes overwhelms the systems, causing leaks into creeks or streams.
First Examination of Long-Term Impacts
Previous studies identified radiation in drilling wastewater, but the report issued by Environmental Science and Technology is the first to review long-term environmental impacts of allowing wastewater to enter into streams and rivers. Treatment removes a substantial amount of radioactivity, but it cannot remove salts like bromide.
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