Update: Radioactivity in Western Penna. & Monongahela River

by Duane Nichols on July 25, 2015

Ten Mile Creek at Monongahela River

Mystery continues over radioactivity in Western Pennsylvania stream

From an Article by Reid Frazier, NPR StateImpact-PA, July 24, 2015

The PA-DEP is investigating high radium readings along Ten Mile Creek southwestern Pennsylvania. The photo shows Ten Mile Creek, a stream that snakes through Greene County, which Ken Dufalla regards as one of his favorite fishing streams. “That’s probably one of the best walleye fishing places there is in the evening you can find. I’ve caught muskies, walleyes, saugers,” Dufalla said.

Four years ago, Dufalla, who leads a local conservation group, stopped fishing here. That’s because the tests he did as president of his local chapter of the Izaac Walton League showed surprisingly high concentrations of bromides. The stream contains treated acid mine drainage from the nearby abandoned Clyde coal mine.

Bromides are not typically found in mine discharges, treated or not. But bromides are typical of fracking waste water. Dufalla sought help from the PA-DEP. Ten Mile Creek feeds into the Monongahela River, the source of drinking water for hundreds of thousands of people in western Pennsylvania, including parts of Pittsburgh.

Researchers say that bromides, when combined with chlorine at a downstream drinking water facility, can create carcinogens such as trihalomethanes.

It turns out that the bromides were not the only toxin Dufalla had to worry about. When the PA-DEP tested the stream water at the mine’s discharge point in April 2014, it found radium-226 and radium-228 at levels 60 times higher than federal drinking water standards allow. Both radium-226 and radium-228 can be found in higher quantities in Marcellus Shale than in other rock formations.

And radium can be present in waste water produced during oil and gas production. Now the state is investigating the possibility that radioactive materials from oil and gas drilling waste may have gotten into the stream.

Last month, the DEP collected water, vegetation, sediment, soil, and fish at 13 sites. The PA-DEP also tested water at the Tri-County Joint Municipal Authority, three miles downstream of the Clyde Mine discharge. The agency is looking for “Marcellus Shale indicators” in the water, as well as acid mine drainage. Ken Dufalla has been sampling Ten Mile Creek for four years.

But sampling done recently by West Virginia University’s Paul Ziemkiewicz, a forest ecologist and acid mine drainage expert, did not reveal high levels of radium. Ziemkiewicz, who directs the West Virginia University Water Research Institute, thinks the PA-DEP may have erred in its previous sample. “We were much much lower (than the PA-DEP’s),” Ziemkiewicz told StateImpact. “In fact, most of (the levels) were below the detection limit.” He says he’ll be watching closely for the PA-DEP’s newest results. “I would say the April 2014 results were anomalously high,” he said. “If they come up with results that were closer to ours, then I would say the 2014 data were simply wrong.”

PA-DEP Spokesman John Poister said in a statement that the agency needs to conclude its analysis of its samples “before reaching any conclusion or making any comparative statements between any of the sampling events.”

The 2014 test results weren’t made public until last month, after an environmental group requested the results under the state’s Right-to-Know law.

Whether the PA-DEP’s test results were flawed or not, Dufalla suspects malfeasance. He thinks someone dumped fracking waste in the Clyde Mine. “It came from someplace — it did not appear miraculously — it came from somewhere and somebody knows where it came from,” he said. Dufalla points out illegal dumping has occurred in this part of the state before. In 2012, a local business man pleaded guilty to illegally dumping fracking waste, into streams, ponds, and an abandoned mine.

And last year, a local sewer authority announced it was investigating possible dumping of frack water at its treatment plant.

According to the federal Environmental Protection Agency, long term exposure to radium increases risk of lymphoma, bone cancer, and leukemia. But earlier this year, the PA DEP released a report stating natural gas drilling waste posed “little or limited” potential for radiation exposure to the public or industry workers. The report did warn that spills of oil and gas fluids could lead to “potential radiological environmental impacts.”

The industry-sponsored Marcellus Shale Coalition declined requests for comment. But previously the trade group said its members handle drilling waste in an environmentally responsible manner, and stressed that the industry has increased the recycling of fracking waste.


Letter of Izaak Walton League of Greene County to PA DEP  (July 20, 2015):

Excerpt regarding recent water samples: “These tests were taken on June 22, 2015.  At that time the water conditions in Ten Mile Creek were at 8.15 feet.  According to the United States Geological Survey gauge at Jefferson, PA., on June 21, 2015 at 02:15 hours, the flow in the stream was 2250 ft3/sec. The average flow for this time of year is 25 ft3/sec. This places the flow rate at 90-times normal. (This would dilute the samples tremendously and invalidate the results.)


See also:Ten Mile Creek testing results expected next month”, Washington (PA) Observer-Reporter, July 23, 2015

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Tom Rhule August 2, 2015 at 6:50 pm

West Virginia University’s Paul Ziemkiewicz may have a vested interest in NEVER finding radium in frack waste, because of the grants from FilterSure Inc. of McLean, Va. to his beloved “Water Research Institute” at WVU.

FilterSure basically hired Dr. Z to lead a group of his WVU students to “invent” a way to recycle frack waste water right at the well pad. Although their experiment went just fine as long as the waste water they used had no measurable radium content in it before it ran through their gizmo, they somehow never got around to publishing results from recycling TRUE Marcellus flowback from local HORIZONTALLY drilled wells, which, according to USGS research, contain an average of 2,460 picoCuries per liter of Radium 226, or 164 times that which is allowed into streams from nuclear power plants.

Meanwhile, other states with less radioactive shale are having real problems disposing of their recycling filter media. But the West Virginia DEP never requires measuring for radionuclides from the Marcellus. As a result, Dr. Z’s FilterSure clients can dump used radioactive filter media just about anywhere they please!

BTW it was Ziemkiewicz’s WVU TDS monitors that were located so far downstream from the coal slurry injection site on Dunkard Creek that they were prevented from predicting the horrible fish kill on that beautiful stream back in 2009. Dr. Z’s theory of “dilution is the solution to pollution” backfired by placing those monitors so far downstream from the Blacksville #2 mine injection site that the golden algae was able to take over before it could be controlled. No radionuclides were found at Dunkard Creek though, because amazingly, no one from the WV DEP ever measured for it!


Jim Guzzi August 3, 2015 at 11:29 am

WOW! Is there any state or federal agency out there that actually wants to help the little guy? It’s all about MR. oil and gas.

I am a surface owner-like most in rural West Virginia. Surface rights are the same as NO rights, just ask ANTERO.

They now want me to sign an agreement to let them inject frack water under my surface. The contaminated oops sorry I mean DIRTY water according to ANTERO will be injected into an experimental well 7000 feet deep on my neighbors property and go under mine.

I asked the agent from Denver that came to my house (because one other surface owner and me are the only ones that haven’t signed) if I say no how would I know what you are doing 7000 feet under my property? He said you won’t unless you got $5,000,000 to drill your own well to see if we’re pumping frack water under your surface.

WRONG Answer. There is no city water out here. What do I do?


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