First-Ever Fracking Wastewater Test in Ohio Reveals Stew of Hazardous Toxins
Results from a sample of brine from hydraulic fracturing operations have revealed numerous hazardous materials, leaving many residents increasingly frustrated at the inaction of Ohio’s Division of Natural Resources (ODNR), the agency responsible for regulation of the state’s shale development.
The lab results indicate high levels of alpha particles, arsenic, barium and toluene, among other contaminants, and are cause for the brine to be classified as “hazardous,” according to Ben Stout, professor of biology at Wheeling Jesuit University who interpreted the results. Stout labeled the results as “eerily similar” to brine samples taken by West Virginia’s Department of Environmental Protection. He describes heavy metals found in the sample as “grossly above standard,” citing skyrocketing arsenic and barium levels that exceed the primary standard for acceptable drinking water concentrations by 370 and 145 times, respectively.
Alpha particles indicate elevated levels of radioactivity and have been linked to lung cancer. High levels of barium are associated with organ failure, and both toluene and arsenic are highly carcinogenic. A partial review of ODNR inspection records on 116 injection wells from 2000-2011 reveals a legacy of brine spillage in at least twelve Ohio counties. In many cases, no remediation has occurred because the ODNR does not classify brine as hazardous waste.
“Ohioans have been asking ODNR to test the fracking wastewater coming into our state from Pennsylvania and West Virginia for a long time,” said Madeline ffitch, a 31-year-old landowner from Athens County who was arrested for blocking access to the Hazel-Ginsburg injection well on June 26. The Ginsburg well contains an open pit storage site from which the hazardous material analyzed by Professor Stout was obtained. ffitch recalls how a worker who oversees the Ginsburg injection well assured her that “just water” is stored in the pit. “ODNR is failing in their responsibility to this Ohio worker," ffitch said. “Why haven’t they tested this frack waste and made the results public?”
Upon reviewing Stout’s analysis of the brine sample earlier this week, Ohio State Rep. Bob Hagan (D-Youngstown) sent a letter to Gov. John Kasich and ODNR Director Jim Zehringer on June 27, stating, “I am writing to express serious concern that the safety and health of Ohio citizens is in jeopardy from the chemical contents of fracking wastewater ... When was the last time ODNR tested the make-up of brine and other fracking waste?” As of July 2, he has received no reply.
The ODNR has authority to order testing of brine before it is injected under section 1509.06 of the Ohio Revised Code. Rick Simmers, ODNR’s Oil & Gas Division chief, and other ODNR officials have received numerous written and oral requests from Ohio residents to order testing of brine, dating back to as early as Jan. 3. In an email dated Feb. 17, ODNR Records Coordinator Beth Wilson admitted that ODNR had "not completed any sampling on the out-of-district fluids injected to date." In response to a public records request filed in June asking ODNR to release all testing relevant to fracking brine, ODNR Geologist Tom Tomastik provided no test results taken after 1989, nearly two decades before Ohio began to accept massive quantities of waste from high volume hydraulic fracturing operations in Pennsylvania, West Virginia and as far away as Texas.
A recent scientific review by ProPublica entitled Injection Wells: The Poison Beneath Us, states: "Records from disparate corners of the United States show that wells drilled to bury this waste beneath the ground have repeatedly leaked, sending dangerous chemicals and waste gurgling to the surface or, on occasion, seeping into shallow aquifers that store a significant portion of the nation's drinking water."
Last week, New Jersey’s legislature banned the processing of fracking waste by a margin of 30-5, citing health and environmental concerns.
While neighboring states are taking steps to minimize brine injection, ODNR collects a fee of 20 cents on each barrel of brine injected from fracking operations out of state. Last year, 95 percent of Pennsylvania’s fracking brine was disposed of in Ohio. The injection program has secured the ODNR more than one million dollars in brine fees between last January and September 2011 alone, causing some residents to criticize this apparent conflict of interest.
“Keeping their jobs and creating new ones is totally dependent on keeping the waste flowing,” said Elisa Young, a resident of Athens, Ohio. “Refusing to analyze the waste when they have the authority to do it while allowing these out-of-state companies to dump unknown toxins in volumes of waste sufficient to induce earthquakes is tantamount to poisoning us for their paychecks."
ffitch added that Ohio residents taking action to test brine “are putting their health and safety at great risk to do the job that should rightfully fall to our state regulators. The burden should not be on residents to defend the legitimacy of work that the ODNR has failed to do all along. Anyone with doubt about the accuracy of these results needs to demand that ODNR immediately sample brine for independent testing.”
Speakers at today's press conference at the Statehouse included:
- Ruth Partin, a Monroe County mother who lives near the site of a miles-long brine spill that has not been remediated. Ruth’s 12-year-old daughter will also be present.
- Elisa Young, a community organizer from Athens with extensive experiences requesting brine sampling and other information from the ODNR.
- Madeline ffitch, an Athens County landowner who was arrested June 26 for blockading the Ginsburg Hazel well in protest of the ODNR’s failure to test brine.
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It's going to be back-to-school time soon, but will children go into the classrooms?
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) thinks so, but only as long as safety measures are in place.
Keeping Schools Safe<p>What will safer schools look like?</p><p>In a <a href="https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/2766822" target="_blank">JAMA article</a> published last month, <a href="https://www.jhsph.edu/faculty/directory/profile/1781/joshua-m-sharfstein" target="_blank">Dr. Joshua Sharfstein</a>, a pediatrician and professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, outlined suggestions — many of which are similar to AAP's.</p><p>Remote learning protocols must stay in place, especially as some schools stagger home and in-building learning. If another shutdown needs to occur, children will rely on distance learning completely, so it must be easy to switch to, he said.</p><p>He suggested giving parents a daily checklist to document their child's health. Kids should be screened quickly on arrival and be given hygiene supplies. Maintenance staff should use appropriate PPE and have regular cleaning schedules. A notification system should be in place if a case is identified, Sharfstein recommended.</p><p><a href="https://www.albany.edu/rockefeller/faculty/erika-martin" target="_blank">Erika Martin</a>, PhD, an associate professor of public administration and policy at University at Albany, said nutrition assistance and health services should be included. She called for tutoring programs with virtual options as well as technology access.</p>
Supporting Staff<p>Teachers and staff will be affected by safeguarding measures, noted <a href="https://directory.sph.umn.edu/bio/sph-a-z/rachel-widome" target="_blank">Rachel Widome</a>, PhD, an associate professor of epidemiology and community health at University of Minnesota.</p><p>"In order for all of the in-school precautions to work well, we'll be asking a lot of teachers and staff," Widome told Healthline. In addition to their usual workload, they'll now be asked to monitor mask-wearing, ensure children are keeping distance, and be aware of any symptoms.</p><p>Along with Sharfstein, Widome called for an increase in financial support. More employees will likely be required so teachers and staff members can keep up with the added demands.</p>
Should Kids Go Back?<p>While these guidelines may help get some schools to reopen, many people don't think children should go back to school over fears they could contract the disease and spread it to other vulnerable family members like grandparents, infant siblings, or their parents.</p><p>In a <a href="https://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/early/2020/07/08/peds.2020-004879" target="_blank">Pediatrics</a> commentary, <a href="https://www.md.com/doctor/william-raszka-md" target="_blank">Dr. William V. Raszka, Jr.</a>, an infectious disease specialist at The University of Vermont Medical Center, argued that schools should open because school-aged children are far less important drivers of COVID-19 than adults.</p><p>But he says the risk and benefit is not equal among all students ages 5 to 18.</p><p>"Elementary schools are arguably higher priority for face-to-face schooling, since younger children are at lower risk for infection and transmission, and since parental supervision of younger children's distance learning may be particularly challenging," added Sorensen, who penned a <a href="https://jamanetwork.com/channels/health-forum/fullarticle/2767411" target="_blank">June article in JAMA</a> with reopening tips. "That means middle and high schools are more likely to emphasize distance learning."</p><p>Specific student populations, such as special education students and students with disabilities, would also benefit greatly from more time spent in face-to-face environments, Sorensen said.</p>
What Parents Can Do<p>Parents should ask for and receive frequent updates from schools about plans for the fall. They should also be informed about plans if and when COVID infections are identified, Sharfstein said.</p><p>"I'd like to see parents investing now, during the summer, in doing things that can slow and stop the spread of the virus in their communities," Widome said.</p><p>"Now is a good time for kids to practice wearing masks and get used to them as they may be wearing them for longer stretches if school starts up in person," Widome suggested.</p><p>She recommends parents try different mask designs and materials to see what children are more comfortable wearing.</p><p>"If you are using cloth face coverings, it's good to have extras on hand," Widome added.</p><p>Parents should model healthy behavior at home and while out in public — another thing that could affect how well children adapt to reopening practices, Sorensen said.</p><p>"Children may want to know more about face coverings," added <a href="https://www.linkedin.com/in/leescott/" target="_blank">Lee Scott</a>, chairwoman of the Educational Advisory Board at <a href="https://www.goddardschool.com/" target="_blank">The Goddard School</a>. "Dramatic play, such as creating or wearing a face covering, may help some children adjust to this concept." Schools can also show children photos of what faculty members look like in their masks so the students are familiar with that appearance.</p><p>Johns Hopkins University recently released its eSchool+ Initiative, a slew of resources surrounding education during the pandemic. These include a <a href="https://equityschoolplus.jhu.edu/reopening-checklist/" target="_blank">checklist for administrators</a>, report on <a href="https://equityschoolplus.jhu.edu/ethics-of-reopening/" target="_blank">ethical considerations</a>, and a tracker of <a href="https://equityschoolplus.jhu.edu/reopening-policy-tracker/" target="_blank">state and local reopening plans</a>.</p>
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By Eoin Higgins
Over 300 groups on Monday urged Senate leadership to reject a bill currently under consideration that would incentivize communities to sell off their public water supplies to private companies for pennies on the dollar.
<div id="fea63" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="9a6f211c2bc5aedd34837944cb8eeedf"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1281000111481294849" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Water in Illinois is overwhelmingly public. Why is Tammy Duckworth sponsoring a bill that aims to change that? https://t.co/1V36Kkd99s</div> — The American Prospect (@The American Prospect)<a href="https://twitter.com/TheProspect/statuses/1281000111481294849">1594249201.0</a></blockquote></div>
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