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Radioactive Wastewater From Fracking Is Found in a Pennsylvania Stream

New testing of treated wastewater from fracking shows  that it contains high levels of radioactive radium, along with chloride and  bromide. Image via Environmental Science and  Technology/Warner et. al.

In the state of Pennsylvania, home to the lucrative Marcellus Shale formation, 74 facilities treat  wastewater from the process of hydraulic fracturing (a.k.a. “fracking”) for natural  gas and release it into streams. There’s no national set of standards that  guides this treatment process—the EPA notes that the Clean Water Act’s guidelines were  developed before fracking even existed, and that many of the processing plants “are not properly equipped to treat this type of wastewater”—and scientists have  conducted relatively little assessment of the wastewater to ensure it’s safe  after being treated.

Recently, a group of Duke University scientists decided to do some testing.  They contacted the owners of one treatment plant, the Josephine Brine Treatment  Facility on Blacklick Creek in Indiana County, Pennsylvania, but, “when we tried  to work with them, it was very difficult getting ahold of the right person,” says Avner  Vengosh, an Earth scientist from Duke. “Eventually, we just went and tested  water right from a public area downstream.”

Their analyses, made on water samples collected repeatedly over the course of  two years, were even more concerning than we’d feared. As published today in the journal Environmental Science and Technology, they found  high concentrations of the element radium, a highly radioactive substance.  The concentrations were roughly 200 times higher than background levels. In  addition,  amounts of chloride and bromide in the water were two to  ten times greater than normal.


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