Monday, September 23, 2019

Penn State Study Recommends Only Using Nontoxic Products Or Highly Treated Drilling Wastewater To Remove Radium, Oil, Metals Before Road Spreading

A 2018 Penn State University research study concluded conventional drilling wastewater spread on roads as a dust suppressant “can harm aquatic life and pose health risks to humans.”
The study also said, “The potential toxicity of these wastewaters is a concern as lab experiments demonstrated that nearly all of the metals from these wastewaters leach from roads after rain events, likely reaching ground and surface water.”
Adding, “Release of a known carcinogen (e.g., radium) from roads treated with O&G wastewaters has been largely ignored. In Pennsylvania from 2008 to 2014, spreading O&G wastewater on roads released over 4 times more radium to the environment (320 millicuries) than O&G wastewater treatment facilities and 200 times more radium than spill events.”
DEP disallowed the use of wastewater from unconventional (Shale gas) wells in road spreading for dust suppression, anti-icing, prewetting or road stabilization in 2016 changes to its regulations.
Among the specific findings in the study are--
-- “Spreading O&G wastewater on roads can harm aquatic life and pose health risks to humans.” 
-- “Experiments simulating the application of O&G wastewater to road materials followed by leaching with synthetic rainwater demonstrated that the majority of contaminants are not retained in the road.”
-- “Despite the presence of biologically active organic micropollutants that could promote cancer, the high salt concentrations in O&G wastewaters transported from the road to surface water after rain events are likely the major potential threat to aquatic toxicity.”
-- “These wastewaters could require up to 1600 times dilution to reach drinking water quality standards or approximately 100 times dilution to reduce acute toxicity to aquatic organisms.”
-- “Some contaminants such as lead, radium, and organic micropollutants may also accumulate in roads treated with O&G wastewaters.” 
-- “This study showed that radioactive radium was partially retained in the road materials, but its concentration reached a plateau after multiple applications of O&G wastewater. Additional radium applied to radium- saturated road materials could be transported to surface water or groundwater or accumulate in local soils.”
-- “The release of radium, a known carcinogen, is a potential threat to human health. In Pennsylvania, we found that radioactivity associated with radium released to the environment via road spreading exceeds the radioactivity of radium released by spill events or wastewater treatment plants.”
-- “The spreading of O&G wastewaters on roads could be a significant contributor of inorganic and organic micropollutants to the environment and has been largely ignored in environmental studies on O&G development.”
The study recommends--
-- Nontoxic Alternatives: Develop affordable nontoxic dust suppressants affordable for townships with small annual budgets for road maintenance.
-- Use Only Highly Treated Wastewater: Only O&G wastewaters that have been treated at wastewater treatment facilities should be considered for road spreading. In addition to the high salt concentrations, these wastewaters contain lead, radium, and organic compounds that could be potentially toxic. 
Wastewater treatment facilities are not designed to remove the high salt concentrations in O&G wastewaters. However, they can effectively remove radium, oil and grease, and other trace metals.
-- Set Chemical Standards, Particularly For Radium: O&G wastewaters approved for road spreading should contain less than 60 pCi/L radium and less than 10 mg/L of total DRO and GRO [total petroleum], similar to other industrial wastewater effluent standards.
Having chemical standards for O&G wastewaters that can be spread on roads could help reduce the potential toxicity concerns associated with this practice.
The study concluded--  “O&G wastewaters may be a viable and cheap option for suppressing dust, but as discussed in this study, there could be potential human and environmental health consequences of this practice. 
            “Some of these concerns could be mitigated by new regulatory standards as described above or by developing alternative low-cost products so townships can maintain their roads without the need to use O&G wastewaters.”
[NOTE: The Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee is due to consider Senate Bill 790 on September 24.]

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