If you live near a fracking site in western Pennsylvania, get ready to glow. A new study finds that thanks to the controversial mining practice, your water is now radioactive.
Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is the process of breaking open rocks with extreme pressure and chemicals so that natural gas, petroleum and other fluids can flow out and be collected.
The practice generates wastewater which has to go somewhere. A Duke University study found that in Pennsylvania streams where fracking waste is discharged from a treatment facility, levels of radioactive radium were 200 times greater than at other points in the stream.
"We were surprised by the magnitude of radioactivity," the study’s co-author Avner Vengosh, aprofessor at Duke's Nicholas School of the Environment said. "It's unusual to find this level.”
Vengosh said that the findings show that even when treated, fracking waste water should not be discharged into the environment.
The study says that the levels of radioactive materials found in the streams where the fracking sites disposed of their water runoff, levels of the dangerous material were “above radioactive waste disposal threshold regulations, posing potential environmental risks of radium bioaccumulation in localized areas of shale gas wastewater disposal.”
The scientists originally wanted to work with water taken directly from the Josephine Brine Treatment Facility on Blacklick Creek in Indiana County, Pennsylvania, but, says Vengosh, “when we tried to work with them, it was very difficult getting ahold of the right person. Eventually, we just went and tested water right from a public area downstream.”
While Vengosh recommends stopping disposal of the waste water altogether, he also warns that the damage has already been done.
Even if, today, you completely stopped disposal of the wastewater,” Vengosh says, “there’s enough contamination built up that you’d still end up with a place that the U.S. would consider a radioactive waste site.”
The Marcellus Shale area of western Pennsylvania has been called “the Saudi Arabia of natural gas.” There are thought to be 500 trillion cubic feet of the material in the rock formation.
SOURCES: USA Today, Smithsonian Magazine, Journal of Environmental Science and Technology