April 15, 2012 - During the week of March 19th, 2012, our tapwater south of Pittsburgh changed. That’s right, instead of the
Monongahela River source water being disinfected with chlorine, our
water supplier switched to chloramine. Why you ask? My short answer
would be because of Marcellus shale natural gas drilling and ‘fracking’
(HVSWHF—high volume slick water hydraulic fracturing).
Now my long answer: This shale gas extraction process uses huge
quantities of water (averaging 4 million gallons per well) and about
20% to 40% of that water flows back out of the well contaminated.
One specific contaminant is causing this tapwater switch, since it
continues to create high levels of ‘total dissolved solids’ (aka:
TDS) in local rivers: Bromides. Something that commonly
appears in ocean water.
THE SHALE 'FRACKING' PROCESS
Fracture pumps, frac tanks and other equipment on a drilling
pad during hydraulic fracturing of gas wells. Plastic-lined
production pit contains orange-colored flowback fluids.
Did you know Marcellus shale is an ancient ocean? So there is
your link: the flowback and produced water from these Marcellus
wells can easily be 10-times saltier than ocean water. So how are
these bromides getting into Pittsburgh rivers? Over recent years,
drillers have been dumping this ‘wastewater’ (labeled ‘Residual
Waste’ on tanker trucks) all over Pennsylvania, legally and
illegally, onto our land and roadways; into streams, rivers, and
abandoned mines; and storing it in huge rectangular pits called
impoundments. Unfortunately, it has made its way into the source of
our tapwater, the Mon River. It’s not just the saltiness that
worries many, it is also the soluble radium, heavy metals and BTEX
(benzene, toluene, ethyl benzene, xylene) that can accompany this
wastewater. Oh, and let’s not forget the ‘frack chemicals’ which can
easily amount to well over 20,000 gallons of chemicals per Marcellus
MARCELLUS SHALE DRILLING WASTEWATER
Drilling companies used to dilute this stuff with
treated sewage and dump it into the rivers
around Pittsburgh until the E.P.A. began
seeing serious problems and intervened.
Some river dumping still occurs.
Back to the chloramine. Treating this ‘salty’ or ‘chunky’ river
water has created unsafe trihalomethane (THM) levels at various
points over the past few years. One of the trihalomethanes is
chloroform. The hazard is considered greater from the gas-off
and dermal exposure in your shower than from drinking the water. By
switching to chloramine, the water company hopes to reduce these
levels, but this change has important ramifications for fish tank
owners and those on dialysis, just to name a couple.
SHOWERS ARE THE WORST
National Academy of Sciences has shown that volatile
chemicals present in many municipal drinking water
supplies are especially toxic to people when they are
exposed to them when bathing or showering.
". . . the major
health threat posed by these water pollutants is far
more likely to be from their inhalation as air
pollutants in the home, according to preliminary data
from a study Andelman and his colleagues have just
"In the past, he says,
inhalation exposure to water pollutants has largely been
ignored.” His data indicates that hot showers can
liberate between 50 to 80 percent of the dissolved
chemicals into the air. Emissions from hot baths are
half as high."
Researcher Julian Andelman of the University of
Pittsburgh's Graduate School of Public Health
Toxic showers and baths
One notice of our tapwater switch was mailed out just before
Christmas 2011. You will find that notice posted below:
Click to enlarge our letter from PAWC about
our switch to chloramine on March 19, 2012
Beyond existing concerns are new ones about the switch to
chloramine. Searching the internet for information on chloramine,
you first come across a California website, "Concerned Citizens
About Chloramine (CCAC)." The group points out that chloramine lacks
the scientific studies that have been done on chlorine, and that it
is less effective than chlorine at 'purifying' water.
Also that chloramine is a combination of chlorine and ammonia, a
irritant, and it still forms two-thirds the trihalomethanes that
The part of CCAC's recommendation I want to focus on is the
reduction of organic matter, or as they put it, the pre-cleaning of
treated water being the best method for improvement.
CCAC recommends that chloramine be removed from the
water supply. The use of chloramine as a water
disinfectant should be discontinued until the
appropriate scientific studies are done to test the
safety of chloramine as a water treatment option.
CCAC also strongly supports the prefiltration of organic
matter before disinfection that the World Health
Organization (WHO) recommends to control trihalomethanes
(THMs). The use of prefiltration will allow us to
continue to use chlorine (well tolerated for decades) as
our water disinfectant thus eliminating all the harmful
effects that chloramine is causing.
Chloramine fact sheet & health risks
An alternative method to "prefiltration" would be not to put all the organic matter
into the rivers in the first place, substances such as fracking
wastewater. High bromide levels are a clear indication to most
Marcellus wastewater is still reaching our Pittsburgh rivers. No
doubt. Latest research indicates the levels of bromides increase the
most between Masontown and Elizabeth, Pa.
STILL DUMPING WASTEWATER INTO PITTSBURGH RIVERS
The AP found that 78
million gallons of oil and gas wastewater were still
being taken to Pa. treatment plants in the last half of
2011 — about 33 percent less than the Marcellus quantity
that was raising concerns in 2010, but still a
substantial amount. If that rate continues, the
conventional wells will send about 150 million gallons
of the wastewater to treatment plants that discharge
into rivers this year.
When will this shale industry start "getting it right?" I believe they
would still be dumping their shale frack water into our rivers at a
frenzied pace if it weren't for the US EPA finally stepping in to
put pressure on the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection
What will they do now if Ohio limits use of their deep injection wells
due to associated earthquakes?
Two wastewater tankers on I-79
near Southpointe exit
Where will the thousands of millions of gallons of toxic fracking wastewater go?
Into more open pits like the one below, which was sickening neighbors
with its toxic fumes until legal and neighborhood pressure finally
got it removed?
This Range Resources wastewater
pit was built close to homes
Washington County, Pa.
Even with reduced levels of frack water being dumped into Pittsburgh
rivers, the bromide levels are still high. High enough to force this
switch to chloramine. You really have to wonder what things will be
like in Pennsylvania's drilling hotspots once this Marcellus
drilling really accelerates. The multi-national companies and Big
Oil are already here, while other companies arrive daily to set-up shop.
Pennsylvania Governor "Tom Corporate" continues to give them the
'green light' everywhere he can. With methane prices dropping in
early 2012, there will be an increased focus
on the tri-state area around Pittsburgh for its more profitable 'wet
gas' and oil.
We have only seen the tip of the iceberg with increased water and
from Marcellus shale drilling so far. Think about that the next time you take a
safer, colder shower. BRRrrr!