I have learned
more over the past 12 months about high-TDS “chunky” water being
chlorinated and creating
trihalomethanes. Some say the risks can be more pronounced from the “gas-off” of
chemicals during showering than from actual water consumption. It is
much easier to filter one drinking water tap than your whole house.
Earlier this year we added a $30 faucet-end Brita filter to the
kitchen sink, so we could at least partially filter our cooking
and drinking water. We still decided to perform a water test through
a certified testing lab (the test is considered uncertified because I took the water
sample instead of lab personnel) of our unfiltered tap water at the end of November
2009, to see what the rest of the water in our house was like.
E.H. Aldrich Station in El Rama where
water is drawn from the Monongahela River
Water Test Results
The four chemicals listed below were somewhat expected due to the
chlorination of our
high-TDS tap water. These chemicals are
listed in the order of their greatest health risk. Human
studies have suggested a link between exposure to trihalomethanes
and colorectal cancers.
are shown as (ppb) parts-per-billion:
Dibromochloromethane 7.60 ppb
Bromoform .5 ppb
Chloroform 42.2 ppb
The risks are described by a water quality specialist:
four chemicals are all what are called ‘disinfection by-products.’ These four are all part of a group of chemicals that are trihalomethanes (this is not a single chemical but a group of them).
Drinking water utilities have to test for total trihalomethanes. The chemicals come from
interaction between the chlorination process at the drinking water
plant and organic matter in the river water. Trihalomethanes can
cause cancer and some studies have linked them to reproductive
problems, especially miscarriage.
What else we
these same test results, an even more disturbing chemical turned up
in our tap water: ACRYLONITRILE at a level of .594 ppb You
might ask how this chemical even got on our radar. It turns out
that water wells close to natural gas drilling and hydraulic fracturing
activities in our tri-state area have been turning up with acrylonitrile present in the water at varying levels. Since large
quantities of waste water from gas well fracking still gets dumped
into the river that provides our tap water, the Monongahela River, it just
seemed logical that we might find this chemical in our water test
FROM THE CDC
Acrylonitrile is irritating to the skin,
eyes, and respiratory tract.
effects range from headache, fatigue,
dyspnea, nausea and vomiting to
asphyxiation, lactic acidosis and
effects are due primarily to the
bioreactivity of acrylonitrile with cellular
proteins and to its epoxide intermediate
that is mutagenic and genotoxic.
is also due to the release of cyanide during
the metabolism of acrylonitrile.
Further comments from a water specialist:
The acrylonitrile results are pretty disturbing.
This is a very toxic carcinogen that is a plastics component. While
(amazingly) acrylonitrile is not a regulated drinking water
contaminant (the federal standards for what comes out of our taps
only covers 83 substances), we do have a Pennsylvania water quality
standard for acrylonitrile which is 0.051ppb (this is the level
allowable in a stream). Bob’s water has over eleven times that
where does this leave us?
Ready to move out of the area to one of the 16 states in the continental United
States where no gas drilling is going to occur! Upstream from
drilling, not downstream. Upwind from drilling, not downwind. The
move probably won’t take place for a number of
years, but wherever we live, my original quest remains the same: Make as many people aware of this water situation
as possible, so that major changes
Save our Water
Improvements have been made in the past year on the quantities of gas drilling wastewater
that can get dumped at waste treatment plants, but much more
needs to be done. We have to put an end to dumping untreated
wastewater into our waterways. At present, the only
treatment is dilution. That’s not good enough. The treatment
plant in the photo below is still allowed to accept 80,000 gallons
of wastewater per day! The only "treatment" is dilution with
treated sewage before it gets dumped into the Monongahela River.
Are they really the good neighbors they claim to be?
Natural gas drilling companies have to step up and spend the money to create
viable technologies that fully treat the chemicals in these brackish fluids. They also
need to start using environmentally safe frac fluids. In areas
like Washington County where wastewater is being recycled,
drillers have to ensure us, under the threat of stiffer
penalties, that wastewater will be handled more responsibly to prevent
ongoing fish kills from leaky pipes. Our county had two documented
fish kills during a five month period in 2009.
Plenty of Water?
The other revision that desperately needs to be made is on the water
withdrawal end of this whole equation. TDS levels become much higher in
waterways when there is less water available to dilute the solids. Therefore, we need to put an end to the massive withdrawals of water
for hydraulic fracturing of gas wells, especially during dry months
when watersheds are already running low.
We also need much better
documentation of water used for fracking from "cradle to grave."
These records should be required by a state or federal agency and
readily available for public review, instead of being held by the
drilling companies. This would help eliminate some
of the potential for midnight pumping and dumping.
Most gas well permits call for 6
million gallons of water needed for fracking one well, with 2 to 4 million
gallons returning to the surface as waste water. That means an
to 4 million gallons of water has to be withdrawn from a local
watershed to add to the recycled wastewater, in order to create
another 6 million gallons for fracking. Therefore, wastewater
recycling only reduces water use slightly.
48.5 million gallons of water PER DAY is permitted to
be removed from the Ohio River watershed in 10 southwestern
Pennsylvania counties over the next 4 to 5 years!
Another aspect of hydraulic fracturing people don’t often consider is
that these large quantities of the
water are removed from the ecosystem and pumped
underground. Much of this water is lost, gone forever. How long can we afford to do
that, when water is becoming more precious by the minute.
What can YOU do?
Bob's Top-7 bullet points on what you can do...
Pennsylvanians should take time today to write a
letter of concern to the Pennsylvania DEP and ask for tighter
regulation of permitted TDS levels (contact information is shown below). Permits
for two additional wastewater facilities are currently in front
of the DEP and require comments before the end of January 2010.
One would dump drilling brine into the Monongahela River and the
other would flow into the Youghiogheny River (Find more
Call or write to your representatives at every level of
government to demand more accountability and regulation of the
gas drilling industry. Hydraulic fracturing of gas wells has widespread exemptions from
many environmental laws that most industries must obey, such as
the Safe Drinking Water Act, the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water
Act, and CERCLA - the Superfund law. There are others.
Ask your Congressional representatives to vote
for the FRAC ACT so that frac fluids will be fully labeled and
regulated under the Safe Drinking Water Act. Close the
"Halliburton Loophole." Heck, pesticides are labeled,
so why not frac fluids?? Just makes good sense.
Push for a gas severance tax in Pennsylvania in 2010 and beyond,
since part of these revenues will be used to repair and restore
our environment. Who else will be there to do it?
At the minimum, buy an activated charcoal filter to run your
drinking water through. To filter water used to shower and
bathe in, it will be necessary to buy a more expensive whole
house water filtration system. In any case, make sure your bathroom is
well ventilated while showering or bathing to vent gas-off.
Don't sign a gas lease without realizing all the ramifications. Encourage your township board
and school board not to lease
public lands for gas drilling. There are many serious air quality
issues from gas production, especially important when it comes
to children. Don't increase children's exposure,
especially considering the current polluted state of our
Finally, hold your Pennsylvania legislators to THE PROMISE held
in the words from the Pennsylvania Constitution that: "guarantees” you and your descendants
“the right to clean air,
pure water, and to the preservation of the natural, scenic,
historic and aesthetic values of the environment.”
are very clear and easy to understand. Hold your elected Pennsylvania
officials to the true meaning of these words, or vote them out of
office, so someone who does abide by them can take their place.
Reply from my water company's
Water Quality Manager
January 5, 2010
I feel that several key issues
are not accurately represented in this blog.
Under the "Beyond TDS" section, THMs are
mentioned as a concern. There is no problem
with a "gas off" situation with THMs. Also, the
article does NOT mention that THMs are present
in all water systems to some degree, and are
regulated by the EPA at a four quarter running
annual average never to exceed 0.08 mg/l as the
sum of the four species. The numbers in the
article show a total level of 0.07 mg/l for the
QUARTER. There was no mention of the level being
below the MCL, and in compliance with the state
and federal regulators.
Secondly, acrylonitrile is set as
a water quality limit at 0.051 ppb due to its
accumulation in fish tissues in a water body.
The drinking water health advisory which is the
applicable number to quote has been set by EPA
at 6 ppb, which means this result is ten times
less than the drinking water advisory limit set
Ronald G. Bargiel
Water Quality Manager
PA American Water
remark to this letter:
While our tap water's annual average was below
the .08 mg/l standard and within regulations as Mr. Bargiel points out, there
were times in 2008 when it spiked to nearly double that
level at .156 mg/l. See Total Trihalomethanes in
the 4th row of the chart below indicating a range of
34-156 ppb in 2008.
Comments from a water consultant
December 8, 2010
American Water Company's (Ronald G. Bargiel's)
response to your inquiry regarding acrylonitrile
warrants some clarification. First, there is no
established Maximum Contaminant Level (MCL) for
acrylonitrile. The Drinking Water Health Advisory
(also referred to as the U.S.National Drinking Water
Standards and Health Criteria) for acrylonitrile of
6.0 ug/L referenced by Mr. Bargiel is based on a 1
in 10,000 (1x10-4) excess lifetime cancer risk (ELCR).
More commonly, particularly in the screening of
residential water supplies, an ECLR of 1 in
1,000,000 (1x10-6) is applied, which results in a
concentration of 0.06 ug/L In fact, the U.S.EPA
Mid-Atlantic Risk Based Concentration (RBC) Table
lists a screening level for acrylonitrile in tap
water of 0.045 ug/L (based on an ELCR of 1x10-6).
Second, Mr. Bargiel's statement that the
surface-water human health criterion of 0.05 ug/L is
due to people eating organisms in which
acrylonitrile bio-accumulates, is misleading. The
U.S. National Water Quality Criteria lists a
concentration for acrylonitrile of 0.25 ug/L for
water from which organisms are consumed by humans.
If humans are both eating organisms and drinking the
water, the U.S. National Water Quality Criteria list
a level of 0.05 ug/L. By this, the primary driver
of the low human health criterion (0.05 ug/L) for
acrylonitrile in surface water is consumption of the
water, with consumption of organisms as a secondary
regard to Maximum Contaminant Levels (MCLs) and the
basis on which they are developed, one
should understand that a number of the MCLs are
technology based; i.e., the levels reasonably
achievable using existing treatment technologies.
If the development of MCLs were strictly risk based
using an ELCR of 1x10-6, a number of the MCLs would
be substantially lower.
Since this blog was written we received the 2009 Annual PAWC Water
Quality Report. According to this report, the annual average for
trihalomethanes was below the .08 mg/l standard, however, water did
test over the limit at .089 mg/l during the year. See report below
under Total Trihalomethanes:
Excerpts from the Pennsylvania Bulletin dated
November 7, 2009
"Water quality analyses performed
for the major watersheds of this Commonwealth to
date, show that many of the rivers and streams
of this Commonwealth have a very limited ability
to assimilate additional TDS, sulfates and
chlorides. This phenomenon was most evident
during the fall of 2008, when actual water
quality issues related to these parameters
emerged in the Monongahela River basin. While
river flows reached seasonal lows, the
concentrations of TDS and sulfates in the river
increased to historic highs, exceeding the water
quality standards at all of the 17 Potable Water
Supply intakes from the border with West
Virginia to Pittsburgh. Exceedances of water
quality standards for TDS and sulfate persisted
in the river through November and December of
2008. Elevated chloride levels were observed on
at least one major tributary—South Fork Tenmile
Creek—and for the first time, elevated bromide
levels were observed in these streams."
"During this period, several environmental
agencies performed studies on the effects of
TDS, sulfate and chloride discharges on the
Monongahela and some of its tributaries. A study
conducted by the Environmental Protection Agency
(EPA), the Department and the Allegheny County
Health Department (ACHD) also identified
bromides as a key parameter of concern in these
waters. The study concluded that a high
percentage of the Disinfection By-Products (DBPs)
being formed in the drinking water systems were
brominated DBPs, which pose a greater health
risk than chlorinated DBPs; and, subsequent
formation of brominated DBPs increases overall
DBP concentrations, specifically trihalomethanes
(THMs). The study also concluded that based on
the speciation there appears to be a strong
correlation between THM formation and elevated
source water bromide concentrations in the
Monongahela River. As a result, the 17 potable
water supply intakes on the Monongahela River
are subject to higher levels of the more toxic
brominated DBPs, creating increased risks
of bladder cancer to their consumers."