Lancaster, PA Water District Wants Testing for Radioactivity in Susquehanna River

The city of Lancaster, PA supplies drinking water for 110,000 people in the city and surrounding suburbs. The drinking water comes from both the Conestoga  and Susquehanna Rivers, with more of it coming from the Conestoga. But the city is planning to change the mix and start drawing a majority of its water from the Susquehanna River—and that has them concerned about potential radioactivity from Marcellus Shale drilling.

Lancaster city officials are scrambling to begin additional testing of drinking water drawn from the Susquehanna River to make sure it doesn’t have radioactivity or salty bromides from Marcellus Shale natural gas drilling.

"It’s a huge concern for us. It’s such a new animal for everyone in the state," said Charlotte Katzenmoyer, the city’s public works director.

Her worries follow recent disclosures that wastewater used in underground fracturing in the Marcellus Shale formation can pick up naturally occurring radioactivity.

Much of that wastewater is recycled and used again. But some is taken to municipal wastewater treatment plants, processed and released, where it makes its way to rivers.

"We’re trying to figure out; is there more specific constituents like bromides that we should be testing for?" Katzenmoyer said.*

When drilling wastewater returns to the surface it contains high levels of bromides, making the wastewater “salty.” According to the article, when bromides undergo the process required to treat drinking water, the bromides “can” (but don’t always) create cancer-causing compounds.

Many people became alarmed after a series of articles were published in The New York Times claiming that Pennsylvania has been lax in allowing Marcellus drilling wastewater to be treated at municipal sewage plants and then discharged into the state’s waterways, including the Susquehanna River. The concern is that naturally occurring radioactive material gets flushed from the ground during the drilling process, when the wastewater is recovered. And that the radioactive material is not properly treated before being discharged into waterways.

However, not long after the NYT article was published, the PA Department of Environmental Protection released a study it had conducted, testing Pennsylvania rivers for radiation and chemicals, and found that radiation levels were well below unsafe levels. Still, vigilance is important so that the public is assured the practice of hydraulic fracturing and the resulting wastewater is safe.

*Lancaster Intelligencer Journal (Mar 28, 2011) – Lancaster City to test Susquehanna water for radioactivity

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  • Shropshire Lass

    New York Times collected data from more than 200 natural gas wells in Pennsylvania that are tapping into the Marcellus
    Shale. The hydraulic fracturing wastewater contains corrosive
    salts and radioactive and carcinogenic materials. In Pennsylvania, this wastewater has been sent through sewage
    treatment plants that cannot remove some of the contaminants before the water
    is discharged into rivers and streams that provide drinking water. The Times
    was able to map 149 of the wells.The levels of radium-226 were as high as 267 times the safe disposal limit and up to 3,600
    times the limit for drinking water.

    9 public
    sewage treatment plants in the sample area were found to have accepted gas
    industry wastewater within the last 4 years

    5 drinking water
    intake plants currently draw in water downstream from wastewater discharge

    6 water quality
    monitoring stations started testing for radioactivilty in November 2010

    So.. food for thought..

    Radium 226 up to 3,600 times the limit for drinking water
    Uranium 238 was found to up to 16
    times the level allowed in drinking water

    Gross Alpha being recorded at up to 2,725 the level allowed in drinking water and
    Benzene being recorded at up to 176 times the limit for drinking water
    Here is an interactive graphic covering these levels in wastewater discharges://