Processing Magazine

Radiation discovered in creek downstream from fracking water treatment plant

October 4, 2013

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Researchers at Duke University have found elevated levels of radioactivity in water and sediment downstream from a Pennsylvania treatment facility which processes fracking wastewater from wells in the Marcellus Shale formation.

The study, published in the Environmental Science and Technology journal, was based on two years of tests on wastewater flowing through Blacklick Creek into the Allegheny River. The team of scholars analyzed water and sediment samples downstream from the Josephine Brine Treatment Facility in Indiana County, Penn., and detected radium levels far higher than those from samples taken upstream from the plant. The concentration was 200 times higher that the level allowed under the Clean Water Act, Bloomberg reported.

Radium is a radioactive metal that occurs naturally but exposure to excessive levels and for prolonged periods of time can cause diseases like leukemia and can lead to other ill-health effects.

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The wastewater treatment facility processes flowback water -- highly saline and radioactive wastewater that resurfaces after being injected into shale rocks in the fracking process. Researchers believe that gas drilling operations have brought the natural radiation to the surface, Bloomberg said.

Avner Vengosh, co-author of the study, stated that such levels of radium were much higher than could be deemed permissible in the United States and warned that the chemical was bio-accumulating, which means that it would eventually build up in fish.