Wastewater from the oil and gas industry that’s being spread on roadways to control dust and ice in at least 13 states, including Pennsylvania, poses a threat to the environment and to human health, according to a study released this week.
The wastewater, commonly referred to as “brine,” contains high levels of salt along with lead, radium, organic contaminants and other heavy metals in concentrations above safe levels for drinking water. Researchers have found that nearly all of the metals from brine leach out from roadways when it rains, and they speculate that the pollutants could wind up in nearby bodies of water and find their way into local drinking water sources.
“Even though the highest volumes of brine are being spread on roads in northwestern Pennsylvania, most of this activity is occurring within the Allegheny River watershed,” William D. Burgos, a professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Pennsylvania State University who co-authored the study, told EHN. “And the Allegheny River is the drinking water source for the city of Pittsburgh.”
In their report, published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology, the researchers noted that in Pennsylvania from 2008 to 2014, spreading oil and gas wastewater on roads released more than four times more radium to the environment (320 millicuries) than was released from oil and gas wastewater treatment facilities, and 200 times more radium than spills. Some lead and radium was also found to settle into roadways.
Radium is radioactive and has been linked to bone marrow and lung cancer, while the health impacts of lead exposure range from lowered IQ levels and …read more