PA Marcellus Wastewater Treatment Plant Threatens Lawsuit Against Pitt Researcher

University of Pittsburgh researcher Conrad “Dan” Volz is resigning in May as director of Pitt’s Center for Healthy Environments and Communities because of his “philosophical differences” with the university over the issue of Marcellus Shale drilling. Volz has been a visible and loud voice against drilling, and that does not sit well at Pitt.

Volz released a report on March 23, subsequently revised and reissued two days ago, critical of the Pennsylvania Brine Treatment plant near Black Lick, in Indiana County, PA. The plant treats and releases Marcellus Shale wastewater into the Blacklick Creek. In the report, Volz recommends the plant’s operations be halted.

Volz’s March 23 report compared levels of several chemicals in the plant’s treated discharge to safe levels in public drinking water. It contended state Department of Environmental Protections officials should halt the plant’s operations and re-evaluate its discharges for potential harm to drinking water, fish and aquatic life. In his revised report two days later, Volz changed risk level comparisons for certain pollutants, and acknowledged the treatment plant’s discharge permit did not list bromide and some other agents used in the drilling process.

His revised report retained recommendations that the state halt the plant’s operations and that downstream drinking water systems and the public be made aware of "potential impacts."*

Volz’s report does not sit well with the owner of the treatment plant. Pennsylvania Brine says the “drinking water” standard used in Volz’s report is an apples and oranges comparison and results in conclusions not warranted.

Pennsylvania Brine first took issue with Volz’s research in a March 31 memo that a company spokesman sent to some reporters. The company said Volz’s report erroneously compared its effluence with drinking water standards, that he greatly exaggerated scenarios in which humans could come in contact with the effluence, and that he claimed the Blacklick Creek is a trout-stocking stream.

"The state never expected our discharge to be drinking-water quality," [said] Paul Hart, president of the treatment company.*

Volz said no publicly available standards exist for treatment plant discharges, so he used the public standard of drinking water.

Pennsylvania Brine’s attorney is now threatening a lawsuit for defamation against Volz unless he issues a public apology and a retraction. Volz told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review he would not issue an apology and he would not issue a retraction. Looks like some hefty legal fees are coming for both sides.

*Pittsburgh Tribune-Review (Apr 14, 2011) – Apology sought from Pitt researcher