By Don Hopey
New scientific sampling and analysis has found high concentrations of ammonium and iodide, two potentially hazardous pollutants, in oil and gas well drilling wastewater discharged into streams and rivers in Pennsylvania and other states.
The peer-reviewed study, which will be published this week in the journal Environmental Science & Technology, is the first to identify those contaminants as widespread in the wastewater discharges from spills and treatment plants, including three facilities in the Allegheny River watershed.
The findings raise new concerns about the environmental and health impacts of drilling wastewater discharges from shale and non-shale oil and gas drilling operations in a variety of geological formations in the Appalachian Basin, according to Avner Vengosh, a professor of geochemistry and water quality at Duke University’s Nicholas School of the Environment. He is one of six researchers from Duke, Stanford and Dartmouth universities who worked on the study.
Mr. Vengosh, in an email response to questions Tuesday evening, said the study did not directly measure the two chemicals — ammonium and iodide — in public water treatment plants, but cites a recent report that showed that “even a tiny amount of bromide and iodide can trigger the formation of disinfection byproducts in public water supplies upon disinfection of the water.”
Ammonium, when dissolved in water, can convert to ammonia, which is toxic to aquatic life. Sampling at wastewater discharge sites found ammonium concentrations up to 100 milligrams per liter or more than 50 times higher than the federal water quality limit for protecting aquatic life.Read more