DEP river tests find low radioactivity in Pa. water

    A week after the New York Times reported high levels of radioactivity in natural gas drilling waste water, the Department of Environmental Protection has released data from tests monitoring Pennsylvania rivers.

    Studies conducted in seven Pennsylvania rivers show “normal” or below-average levels of radiation.

    “Here are the facts,” said acting DEP Secretary Michael Krancer in a statement. “All samples were at or below background levels of radioactivity; and all samples showed levels below the federal drinking water standard for Radium 226 and 228.”

    The results come nine days after a high-profile New York Times story warned that waste-treatment facilities don’t have the capacity to remove radon and other elements from drilling waste water.

    Concern “is based partly on a 2009 study, never made public, written by an EPA consultant who concluded that some sewage treatment plants were incapable of removing certain drilling waste contaminants and were probably violating the law,” said the paper. “The Times also found never-reported studies by the EPA and a confidential study by the drilling industry that all concluded that radioactivity in drilling waste cannot be fully diluted in rivers and other waterways.”

    DEP conducted tests in the Susquehanna, Monongahela, Allegheny, Tioga, Conemaugh and Beaver rivers, as well as Ten Mile Creek. The samples were taken in November and December–after the Times first contacted DEP about radiation concerns, according to the initial article.

    Earlier Monday, before the results were released, former DEP Secretary John Hanger told WITF-FM’s “Radio Smart Talk” that radiation concerns are overblown.

    “The radioactivity that comes–that it is in the wastewater is a result of coming into contact with those elements naturally. They’re in the ground, and there’s a certain amount of radioactivity associated with the ground,” he said. “There is a lot of information. There’s been a lot of review. I understand the sort of–the dramatic effect of the word “radiation” and “drinking water.” And we don’t need to argue about this. Let’s get the results of the test. It’s underway. I think they should be testing everywhere.”

    Hanger said DEP took a hard look at radiation levels during his tenure, and concluded it wasn’t a threat. Among the questions asked, he said, were, “Do these numbers pose a threat to gas drilling workers? The answer was no. Do they pose a threat to anybody who transports the materials–truck drivers? The answer was no. Do these numbers pose a threat to anybody who processes the water at a plant? The answer was no. And then last and most importantly, do these numbers post a threat to our drinking water and the public? And the answer was no.”

    He’s criticized the Times report at his blog, johnhanger.blogspot.com.

    Two western Pennsylvania water companies–the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority and the Pennsylvania American Water Company–are conducting their own radiological tests, as well.

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