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

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.

About the Authors

Amy Mall

Senior Policy Analyst, Land & Wildlife program

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