Who Took A Dump On Your Dinner Plate?
Marcellus Shale drilling looks like big money for Pennsylvania, a tsunami of riches and fuel independence. But there is concern, not only about fresh water quality after the discharge of the known toxic chemicals used in the Marcellus Shale drilling process, but also with the land that will receive the remaining waste. Will the toxic chemicals used in the drilling process be made safe through the “treatment of waste water”?
Millions of people rely on Pennsylvania watershed areas to provide their drinking water via rivers, lakes, wells and purchased bottled water. Water is also necessary to sustain our food supply. Although Pennsylvania’s population is sixth in the nation, citizens throughout America will be affected by the contamination from the Marcellus Shale drilling – just follow the trail of rain water run-off and sewage sludge/biosolids, the equal opportunity pollution sources.
Forty percent of the US population is within one day’s drive of Pennsylvania and the Delaware River. The Delaware River, Pennsylvania’s most eastern river separating Pennsylvania from New Jersey, creates a watershed basin that provides 10% of America’s drinking water supply. Seventeen million people, including 7 million in New York City and New Jersey, rely on the Delaware River watershed for their water supply. Philadelphia, with 1,500,000 residents, is the southern-most Pennsylvania city and is at the transition of where the freshwater of the Delaware River becomes the salt water of Delaware Bay before joining the Atlantic Ocean.
Susquehanna River watershed almost cuts Pennsylvania in half from south to north, passing through Harrisburg and including a population of 4,000,000. The Susquehanna watershed accounts for 45% of Pennsylvania’s agricultural land use and for 25% of the drainage area. The Susquehanna watershed leads into the Chesapeake Bay watershed area.
The Chesapeake watershed has 100,000 miles of streams and rivers and includes a population of 16.6 million in six states – Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, New York, Virginia, West Virginia and Washington, DC. The Chesapeake has become so polluted that the Obama administration has named a special commission to address the issue.
Ohio River basin includes the Allegheny River watershed, the Monongahela watershed, covers 204,000 square miles and parts of 14 states. Like many major cities, the western Pennsylvania city of Pittsburgh and the 1,281,000 inhabitants rely on the river and watershed for their drinking water. And like many major cities, the water that sustains the community is also the water that receives our waste. A large portion of the drilling for Marcellus Shale is in the western part of Pennsylvania but the effects of drilling will impact health and safety of citizens in a much wider area. Although Pennsylvania has a history of drilling for various fuels, the combined use of fresh water and toxic chemicals in the Marcellus Shale drilling process has severe effects on the fresh water sources throughout the community and the nation. Oddly enough, it will also have an effect on America’s food supply.
Drilling through the hard layer of Marcellus Shale to get to the natural gas found 5,000 to 8,000 feet underground requires a process of high-pressure hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking”. By combining chemicals with the millions of gallons of water pulled from wells, streams and rivers, the gas companies not only remove the fresh water that all humans, animals and plants need for survival but simultaneously poison the waters that sustain us. First, the known toxic chemicals are combined with water and injected underground drilling through dirt, rock, Marcellus Shale – but also through underground fresh water. Unfortunately, underground fresh water does not stay in one place or recognize property boundaries, carrying pollution to numerous locations. After wells and waterways are poisoned, people become ill and their homes and communities can no long provide a basic quality of life. Then, 60 to 80 percent of this chemical brew comes back to the surface, where disposal becomes the challenge. In 2005, Congress voted to exempt the oil and gas industry from complying with the Safe Drinking Water Act.
The waste from the fracking is sent to waste water treatment plants to “treat” some of the chemicals before reintroducing the water back to the community. But where do those chemicals go? When the fracking fluids go to a waste water treatment plant, the chemicals combine with the sewage from homes, businesses, industry, hospitals and mortuaries. There, it is heated, treated with even more chemicals and squeezed, with the goal of separating the liquids from the solids in order to return the liquids back into the community. The liquids, called effluence, are generally deposited in waterways and rivers but can also be used to water crops.
The solid remains of everything that goes down the drain and exits the waste water treatment plant are called sewage sludge, or biosolids. Obviously, sewage sludge is the condensed collection of our natural human manure, all the deposited chemicals, heavy metals, pathogens, pharmaceuticals and viruses.
Now, let’s add the known hazardous chemicals from the Marcellus Shale drilling sites to the toxic soup at the waste water treatment plant. Although the “short list” of many of the toxic chemicals used in the drilling process is known to cause severe health effects or cancer, none are tested, regulated or restricted in sewage sludge. In fact, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), in their faulty determination of sewage sludge “safety”, requires testing for only nine elements. In an “under-whelming” act of public safety concern, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) adds PCB’s to the list of required testing of sewage sludge. Only salmonella OR E. coli are required for testing in a false assumption that pathogen risk is reduced if one of these “indicator” bacteria is reduced. There is no required testing for any viruses, pharmaceuticals, chemicals or other known hazardous waste. If any other element is found in the sewage sludge or waste water treatment plant fluid effluence, there is no legal requirement to restrict the use of these products on our food, water or communities.
8 million tons of sewage sludge is marketed throughout the US and used as a “fertilizer” option on farm fields, parks, playgrounds, golf courses, re-claimed land and sold as bagged fertilizer. Have there been any scientific studies on the potential health implication of combining all these chemicals with the heavy metals, pharmaceuticals and viruses? Never. But sewage sludge is land applied throughout Pennsylvania and America. All open land – farmland, woodland, parks, and family gardens – drain to some form of waterway above ground or under ground. All watershed areas will naturally drain to the wells, aquifers and rivers that provide our drinking water. All sewage sludge run-off does, too.
Feb 25, 2009, The Phoenixville News reported radiation found in the Schuylkill River (tributary to the Delaware River) and in the sewage sludge from Royersford, Pennsylvania, the location of the laundering facilities for the local nuclear power plants. The DEP had been ‘monitoring’ the known radiation since 2004, when monitors at a land fill detected high levels of radioactive material in a load of sewage sludge. There are no state or federal regulations for ‘monitoring’ radioactive material in sewage sludge/biosolids that are land applied to our food source or back yard fertilizers. So the question begs: how long does a bureaucrat need to ‘monitor’ poisoning our food and water supply before a law or regulation changes? Sewage sludge run- off carries it’s contaminants, including the chemicals used in fracking Marcellus Shale, across America’s lands and into everyone’s watersheds and rivers, from sea to shining sea.
In an effort to balance the 2010 Pennsylvania state budget, the DEP staff and operational funding was cut 30%. So even if there where an effort at stricter regulations, who would enforce those rules without the staffing and funds to be effective? Where is the wisdom of pouring known toxic waste on our communities, food and water supply as a false fertilizer or for a limited fuel source? Is the long-term health impact on the 12,600,000 people living within the Pennsylvania boarders and the millions more human and environmental lives that will be impacted worth the short term, financial gain for a limited few? No, the risk is too high – the loss too great. We can’t drink natural gas and we can’t prostitute our food, farms and families for a fuel source.
It’s time for our elected officials to do what they were elected to do – protect the people, not the policy.