Dangerous levels of radiation from fracking found in PA water

Researchers found 200 times the normal amount of radium downstream of a treatment plant

Topics: fracking, clean water, marcellus shale, Pennsylvania, Radiation, ,

Dangerous levels of radiation from fracking found in PA waterA hydraulic fracturing operation at a Marcellus Shale well (Credit: U.S. Geological Survey)

The wastewater released into a Pennsylvania river from a plant that processes fracking wastewater tested positive positive for dangerous contaminants — including radium levels elevated 200 times above normal — Duke University researchers found.

“The radioactivity levels we found in sediments near the outflow are above management regulations in the U.S. and would only be accepted at a licensed radioactive disposal facility,” Robert B. Jackson, one of the researchers, said in a statement.

The study, published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology, compared water and sediment samples from downstream of the Josephine Brine Treatment Facility, located on western Pennsylvania’s Marcellus shale formation, to samples from above the plant. In addition to the extreme levels of radium, it also found two to ten times the amoung of chlorides and bromides in the downstream samples.



As Smithsonian Magazine notes, Pennsylvania hosts 74 facilities that treat the radioactive water driven to the surface by fracking. Ostensibly, they’re supposed to remove radium and other contaminants from the water before releasing it into rivers and streams. No national standards, however, exist to regulate the plants, many of which, according to the EPA, “are not properly equipped to treat this type of wastewater.” They’re also not required to test to radiation — so until the Duke researchers stepped in, it’s likely no one was aware of just how poorly this plant was performing.

“Each day, oil and gas producers generate 2 billion gallons of wastewater,” Jackson told Climate Central. “They produce more wastewater than hydrocarbons. That’s the broader implication of this study. We have to do something with this wastewater.”

Lindsay Abrams

Lindsay Abrams is an assistant editor at Salon, focusing on all things sustainable. Follow her on Twitter @readingirl, email labrams@salon.com.

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