City of Lancaster, PA Water Testing Finds No Radioactivity Nor Salty Bromides in the Susquehanna River

A few months ago, the New York Times published a series of articles alleging that Pennsylvania’s waterways may contain radioactivity because Marcellus Shale drilling wastewater had been treated and discharged into streams and rivers in the state. The articles created a good deal of fear that drinking water supplies have been polluted in Pennsylvania.

One of the larger population centers in the state with concerns is Lancaster, PA because it sits downstream from some of the heaviest drilling activity in the state. The mighty Susquehanna River runs through Lancaster, coming from northeastern PA counties where there’s a lot of drilling, and where drilling wastewater is treated and released into the river. Lancaster gets close to half of its water supply from the Susquehanna River for the 110,000 residents of the city and surrounding suburbs. So Lancaster officials decided to start testing immediately for radioactivity and for the presence of salty bromides (see the MDN story here).

The test results are in:

Tests show that Lancaster’s drinking water contains no radioactivity from wastewater used in upstate Marcellus Shale natural gas drilling.

The first round of testing, sampled on April 12, did not detect gross alpha radiation, gross beta radiation, radium 226 or radium 228, according to John Holden, the city’s water production manager.

Also not found were bromides, barium or mercury.

The radioactive isotope strontium-90 was found at very low levels. But the isotope, widely used in medicine and industry, also was found in tests in 1995 and 1999, long before Marcellus Shale drilling began.*

Lancaster did another round of testing on May 11. Those results are not yet in.

*Intelligencer Journal/Lancaster New Era (May 25, 2011) – Lancaster city water passes the test