Bromide Levels in Rivers Remain High, Despite Changes in Brine Disposal

by Nicole Good on December 5, 2011

A home water filter can reduce trihalomethanes from tap water, but they can still be inhaled (think steam in the shower).

Bromides, a salt found in brine from oil and gas drilling, create a carcinogen called trihalomethanes when they are chlorinated in drinking water.  It is because of high levels of bromides in source rivers, such as the Ohio and Monongahela, that dozens of drinking water treatment plants in West Virginia and Pennsylvania have violated EPA standards for trihalomethanes since 2008– the year gas drillers began flocking to the area to tap the Marcellus Shale.

Since this spring, drillers have been sending less of their brine water from shale gas wells to municipal treatment plants, which do not have the expensive new technology required to remove bromides.  They’re opting to send it to deep injection wells or recycling facilites instead. Thus, one would expect that, especially after such a wet year, bromide levels in the rivers would have dropped.

However, a story from Pittsburgh Public Media reports that bromide levels remain high. One potential culprit is conventional oil and gas drilling, but a definitive answer has not been found yet.  The EPA plans to tighten standards for trihalomethanes in the spring, meaning that if drinking water treatment plants exceed standards for the chemical, its customers will be notified that their drinking water does not comply with the Safe Drinking Water Act.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Dee Fulton December 6, 2011 at 9:53 pm

Thank you for the good post, Nicole.
I was alerted to the danger of trihalomethanes in May 2009. That’s when I received the first of two letters from the Masontown Water Works. The first letter informed me that my water had violated TTHM drinking standards for the 3rd and 4th quarters of 2008. TTHM stands for Total Trihalomethanes, a piece of vital info not provided in the letter, interestingly enough. But, the best part is that the numerical data provided showed that there was no small exceedance of maximum contaminant level (MCL) going on. The yearly average of TTHM for the latter half of 2008 exceeded the standard by a factor of….wait for it……one thousand! Yes…the MCL standard is 0.080mg/L. The water Masontown was serving was at an average of 81mg/L and 104mg/L for the 2 quarters. In my neck of the woods, the water comes from the Mon River via MUB but I’m billed by Masontown.
Also, it took the good people a year before they informed me that the water had exceeded the MCL for Total Haloacetic Acids (HAA5)in the second quarter of 2008. Care to guess how much the HAA5s exceeded standards? If you said “1,000″, YOU ARE A WINNER!
Things were better in the notice I received concerning the 2nd quarter 2009. The notice was more timely (mailed on July 30, 2009), and the TTHM level was in exceedance by 0.01mg/L, but it was still after the fact.
Both letters reassured the consumer that there really wasn’t anything to worry about. “This is not an immediate risk. If it had been, you would have been notified immediately.”
The letter also stated that a project was being bid that would address disinfection byproducts such as TTHM and HAA5 with an anticipated completion date of early 2011. Don’t know what the status of that project is.
It’s sad when we can no longer trust our municipal water providers to serve us safe water. But hey, we’re hillbillies. We’re disposable, right?


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