PADEP to Sewage Plants: Stop Discharging Marcellus Wastewater, Please.

by Dee Fulton on April 21, 2011

The Pennsylvania DEP has taken action geared to reduce the problem of state legitimized discharging of Marcellus waste water into the rivers.  There are many unhealthy components in frack wastewater, but bromide has emerged as the red flag that stimulated the change in policy.   The DEP has asked 15 municipal sewage treatment plants to voluntarily stop discharging Marcellus wastewater into the rivers.

According to  Carnegie Mellon University, “Bromide itself is not harmful, but when it enters a drinking water treatment plant it can be transformed to brominated organics that are harmful,” she explained. “This transformation occurs during the disinfection of the water, which is critical to kill harmful microorganisms.  So, the important disinfection process has an unintended consequence if the river water has bromide.”   In other words, bromide plus organic compounds plus chlorination produces nasty consequences i.e. carcinogenic trihalomethanes.

Events leading up to this policy change:

  • March 10, 2011 – Clean Water Action and Three Rivers Waterkeeper announced legal action against McKeesport and Franklin Township Sewer Authorities to stop the discharge of Marcellus wastewater.
  • March 28-29 2011 – University of Pittsburgh issued report on study of wastewater effluent documenting elevated levels of bromide and other pollutants.
  • April 8, 2011 – Carmichaels, Pa Municipal Authority issues boil water alert because of potential presence of pathogens.  Chlorine had been reduced in an attempt to lower trihalomethane levels in the drinking water to acceptable levels.
  • April 19, 2011 – Industry group Marcellus Shale Coalition acknowledges that  frack wastewater is contributing bromides to the water supply at same time PADEP announces the request to the sewage treatment plants to stop discharging wastewater.

“Research by Carnegie Mellon University and Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority experts suggests that the natural gas industry is a contributing factor to elevated levels of bromide in the Allegheny and Beaver Rivers,” said Kathryn Klaber, president and executive director of the coalition of Marcellus Shale drilling industry companies. “We are committed to leading efforts, and working alongside DEP and other stakeholders, to address these issues quickly and straightforwardly, and support the appropriate action taken by DEP today.”

Myron Arnowitt, state director of Clean Water Action, questioned whether treatment facilities and drilling companies will voluntarily comply. ”It’s great DEP recognizes its a real problem,” Mr. Arnowitt said. “But on the flip side, the state needs to take some action and not just make voluntary requests.”

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