Fracking leaves Pennsylvania waters awash in a toxic chemical stew
The release of “treated” wastewater from hydraulic fracturing (fracking) operations in Pennsylvania has led to regional watersheds being contaminated with radioactive materials, endocrine-disrupting chemicals, and heavy metals, according to a new study from researchers at Penn State, Colorado State, and Dartmouth.
By James Ayre
The analysis of sediments and porewaters from a lake downstream from two facilities that treat fracking wastewater in Pennsylvania led to the detection of highly elevated levels of toxins.
Here’s more, from the press release:
“The researchers sampled sediments and porewaters from a lake downstream from two facilities that treat fracking wastewater in Pennsylvania. Their analysis detected that peak concentrations of radium, alkaline earth metals, salts and organic chemicals all occurred in the same sediment layer. The two major classes of organic contaminants included nonylphenol ethoxylates, which are endocrine-disrupting chemicals, and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, which are carcinogens. The highest concentrations coincided with sediment layers deposited 5 to 10 years ago during a peak period of fracking wastewater disposal.”
The correlation between the sediment layer of peak concentrations and the local peak of fracking wastewater disposal is a pretty good smoking gun.
Notably, elevated levels of radium were found as far as 12 miles downstream from the treatment plants. It’s not completely clear what effect the elevated levels of radium, and also the above mentioned chemicals, will have on human health — particularly over the long term — but the researchers note that it might be prudent to tighten wastewater disposal regulations.
To provide a better understanding of the scale of fracking wastewater disposal in Pennsylvania, a 2015 report estimated that 10,000 unconventional oil and gas wells operated in the Marcellus Shale around that time, producing around 1.7 billion gallons of wastewater a year.
That wastewater is being released into the environment with only very minimal treatment.
The findings of the new study are detailed in a paper published in the ACS’ journal Environmental Science & Technology.