Research Recommends Different Radioactivity Test for Wastewater

A new study has just been accepted for publication in the peer reviewed journal Environmental Science & Technology Letters titled, “Matrix Complications in the Determination of Radium Levels in Hydraulic Fracturing Flowback Water from Marcellus Shale” (full copy embedded below). It is important to understand what this highly technical article does, and does not, say–and what it does, and does not mean. The article reports research by a professor of radiology (and his colleagues) at the University of Iowa into the different ways Marcellus Shale flowback wastewater can be tested to determine the level of radioactivity in the water. There is a concern that Pennsylvania and New York have specified a method of testing put forward by the federal EPA that is fine for drinking water, but not accurate when testing Marcellus Shale wastewater. The professor and his team have determined the EPA method of testing only shows 1% of the true amount of radioactivity in some water samples, whereas there are other, more reliable tests, that catch nearly all of the radioactivity.

The purpose of the research–the “import” or “bottom line”–is that environmental regulatory agencies are using the wrong test when it comes to analyzing frack wastewater. What this research shows is that a different test is needed. However, what the research does NOT show is that the level of radioactivity found is dangerous to handle or dangerous to dispose of, either by recycling or by injection well. The only way some (not all) wastewater would be dangerous is by releasing it back into rivers and streams without proper treatment–something PA banned nearly three years ago under then-DEP Sec. Michael Krancer (see PA DEP, Marcellus Shale Coalition Admit Drilling Wastewater Likely Contaminating Drinking Water)…

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