Quantcast

Is Dimock's Water Safe to Drink?

Energy

Shale Gas Review

By Tom Wilber

EPA technicians collect a sample of Dimock water in January. Photo by James Pitarresi.

Federal health officials are assessing risks related to elevated levels of arsenic, barium, manganese and methane in an aquifer that supplies homes in a shale gas production zone in Dimock, Pa.

The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry is following up on an U.S. EPA study that analyzed the water of 64 homes near drilling operations in the Marcellus Shale in the rural community just south of the border with New York State. After six months of testing, the U.S. EPA concluded last month that levels of pollution in five of the wells—roughly 8 percent—were high enough to pose health risks, but those risks were mitigated by treatment systems installed in or planned for the homes.

The U.S. EPA investigation was prompted by an ATSDR analysis of previous water tests in December, 2011. The ATSDR, acting on concerns by residents, evaluated records of previous samples collected by both Cabot Oil & Gas and the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection. Officials found evidence of elevated levels of various solvents, metals, and glycols that posed “a possible chronic public health threat based on prolonged use of the water” in “at least some” of the Dimock wells.

According to the report, ATSDR Record of Activity/Technical Assist UJD #: IBD7:

Agency officials visited the Dimock homes along Carter Road and State Route 3023 on Nov. 10, 2011 and were provided a large amount of well data. Based on the home visits and preliminary review of data, EPA and ATSDR raised the following concerns: the reliability of methane removal systems; the presence of other contaminants besides methane (metals, volatile organics and non-naturally occurring organics) for which the well treatment systems are not designed or in place to address; and homes/wells in Dimock that may have never been tested and may be contaminated. The multiple sampling efforts at this site to date were conducted by PADEP and private contractors not affiliated with EPA.

In response to the concerns, the U.S. EPA subsequently tested wells in the area between January and June. In July, the EPA press office issued a release that stated “no further action” was needed by the EPA. But the release failed to mention that the EPA results would be factored into a broader health study by the ATSDR. Accordingly, the EPA results were widely characterized by news outlets as resolution to pollution questions that have nagged the small town overlying one of the most lucrative production zones for the Marcellus shale.

The ongoing ATSDR investigation and follow-up -- cited in the Record of Activity/Technical Assist – were confirmed by Bernadette Burden, a spokeswoman for the ATSDR. According to Burden, the agency is pursuing “a fairly comprehensive review” of the Dimock water case that takes into account the EPA tests, as well as previous tests by Cabot contractors and the DEP. The ATSDR -- a branch of the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention -- will account for risks of long-term exposures to the water through showering, drinking, bathing and washing, as well as risks that might be compounded when people are exposed to multiple toxicants. There is no time frame for the completion of the report, she said.

According to the December 2011 “Record of Activity/Technical Assist”:

A full public health evaluation should be conducted on the data from the site area. Because many of these compounds (e.g. metals) affect the same organ systems, ATSDR recommends evaluating the mixture for public health impacts using computational techniques or other suitable methods to evaluate the potential for synergistic actions: The cumulative concentration of all dissolved combustible gases should be considered to protect against the buildup of explosive atmospheres in all wells in the area.

The contaminants found by the U.S. EPA—arsenic, barium, manganese and methane—occur naturally in the ground. They are also associated with drilling operations, which can exacerbate existing problems or introduce new ones. In the five cases where the levels were high, according to the EPA press release, the residents have or will have treatment systems to reduce chemical concentrations to levels acceptable for potable water.

Dimock has been the focal point of a national controversy over the impacts and risks associated with shale gas development and high volume hydraulic fracturing. The process, commonly known as fracking, involves injecting bedrock with millions of gallons of chemical solution to stimulate the flow of natural gas. While fracking has often been implicated when things go wrong, the migration of methane and other chemicals in the ground into aquifers can be caused by drilling in the absence of fracking. Barium, one of the problem chemicals found in Dimock, is a common constituent of drilling “mud” – a viscous solution used to lubricate the drill bit and float cuttings to the surface.

The Dimock conflict began on Jan. 1, 2009, with the explosion of a well that supplied water to the home of Norma Fiorentino, a plumber’s widow and great grandmother. A subsequent investigation by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Projection (DEP) found that methane was seeping from nearby drilling operations into an aquifer that supplied Norma’s well and others along the Carter Road area. Cabot contested the findings after the DEP, under Governor Ed Rendall’s administration, determined that the aquifer was permanently damaged from methane migrating from the bores of nearby gas wells. The DEP ordered Cabot to build an $11 million water pipeline to supply affected homes. That order was lifted shortly after Tom Corbett won the gubernatorial election in November 2011.

Last month, Cabot reported that it had reached terms for a settlement with 32 of 36 Dimock families that were suing the company for water pollution. Terms of the deal were not disclosed. Not all the plaintiffs accepted the deal, and some are continuing to pursue the case.

Note: I asked EPA officials the following question through spokeswoman Terri-A White. White told me to expect a reply soon. I will update this report accordingly.

EPA’s sampling of Dimock wells shows hazardous levels of methane in six instances.

HW03z (28,000 ug/l)
HW12 (52,000)
HW25 (65,000)
HW26-P (38,000)
HW29 (77,000)
HW29z (62,000)

What steps have been taken to correct this?

ATSDR Record of Activity/Technical Assist (UJD #: IBD7 Date: 12/28/2011) advises the EPA that “Additional characterization of the groundwater quality and a thorough review of any changes in concentration over time are indicated. “

Has this been done?

In the same document, the ATSDR has also recommended that “A full public health evaluation should be conducted on the data from the site area” and “evaluating the mixture for public health impacts using computational techniques or other suitable methods to evaluate the potential for synergistic actions” and “The cumulative concentration of all dissolved combustible gases should be considered to protect against the buildup of explosive atmospheres in all wells in the area. “

Has this been done?

Visit EcoWatch’s FRACKING page for more related news on this topic.

 

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Juvenile hatchery salmon flushed from a tanker truck in San Francisco Bay, California. Ben Moon

That salmon sitting in your neighborhood grocery store's fish counter won't look the same to you after watching Artifishal, a new film from Patagonia.

Read More Show Less
Natdanai Pankong / EyeEm / Getty Images

By Lauren Panoff, MPH, RD

Coconut meat is the white flesh inside a coconut.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Arx0nt / Moment / Getty Images

By Taylor Jones, RD

Oats are a highly nutritious grain with many health benefits.

Read More Show Less
Pexels

Get ready to toast bees, butterflies and hummingbirds. National Pollinator Week is June 17-23 and it's a perfect time to celebrate the birds, bugs and lizards that are so essential to the crops we grow, the flowers we smell, and the plants that produce the air we breathe.

Read More Show Less
Alexander Spatari / Moment / Getty Images

It seems like every day a new diet is declared the healthiest — paleo, ketogenic, Atkins, to name a few — while government agencies regularly release their own recommended dietary guidelines. But there may not be an ideal one-size-fits-all diet, according to a new study.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Logging shown as part of a thinning and restoration effort in the Deschutes National Forest in Oregon on Oct. 22, 2014. Oregon Department of Forestry / CC BY 2.0

The U.S Forest Service unveiled a new plan to skirt a major environmental law that requires extensive review for new logging, road building, and mining projects on its nearly 200 million acres of public land. The proposal set off alarm bells for environmental groups, according to Reuters.

Read More Show Less
Maskot / Getty Images

By Kris Gunnars, BSc

It's easy to wonder which foods are healthiest.

Read More Show Less
Homes in Washington, DC's Brookland neighborhood were condemned to clear room for a highway in the 1960s. The community fought back. Brig Cabe / DC Public Library

By Teju Adisa-Farrar & Raul Garcia

In the summer of 1969 a banner hung over a set of condemned homes in what was then the predominantly black and brown Brookland neighborhood in Washington, DC. It read, "White man's roads through black men's homes."

Earlier in the year, the District attempted to condemn the houses to make space for a proposed freeway. The plans proposed a 10-lane freeway, a behemoth of a project that would divide the nation's capital end-to-end and sever iconic Black neighborhoods like Shaw and the U Street Corridor from the rest of the city.

Read More Show Less