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Study Discovers Fracking Wastewater Irradiated and Polluted a Pennsylvania River
Photo: Adam Gregor / Shutterstock
Fracking for shale gas doesn’t exactly have the best track record for safety or positive environmental impact. Well, go ahead add another unfortunate environmental catastrophe to the fracking record. Duke University researchers recently discovered elevated levels of radioactivity, salts and metals in the western Pennsylvanian Blacklick Creek that the Josephine Brine Treatment Facility uses to discharge treated wastewater from oil and gas operations.
According to Avner Vengosh, professor of geochemistry and water quality at Duke University’s Nicholas School of the Environment, the scientists found radioactive radium levels 200 times higher in sediment samples near the discharge site than found in those just upstream from the plant. Radium isn’t the only thing scientists are finding in the water; high concentrations of some salts and metals were also observed in the stream water.
Although the Josephine Brine Treatment Facility removes a substantial amount of radiation from the water other salts including bromide. Bromide in high-concentration can create highly toxic disinfection byproducts when the water reaches the drinking water treatment facilities located downstream.
Radium, meanwhile, is a highly radioactive isotope and decays into extremely toxic, colorless, and odorless radon gas. At this point even thought the treatment plant has reduced the amount of radioactivity in its wastewater, it’s accumulated to such a level that it “exceeds thresholds for safe disposal of radioactive materials.”
“Years of disposal of oil and gas wastewater with high radioactivity has created potential environmental risks for thousands of years to come,” Vengosh said in a release.
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