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Treated Fracking Wastewater Still Poses Risks to Environment, Health

Oct 4, 2013

The testing of Pennsylvania streams has revealed the presence of toxic materials used during, or created by, the hydraulic fracturing (fracking) process.

According to a report this week, the study appears in the journal Environmental Science & Technology. Researchers from Duke University found that fracking wastewater that had undergone a treatment process to remove contaminants and other toxins still had traces of those harmful agents when released into local streams.

The study found that treated fracking wastewater contained high levels of salts, other contaminants, and radioactive materials commonly associated with the process that explores for natural gas in underground rock beds.

Based on our previous reports, fracking drilling is being conducted in Pennsylvania's Marcellus shale formation. Thousands of active fracking wells are operating today, and many critics of the process believe that the widespread fracking activity is polluting the land and water, as well as putting the public health at risk.

This study supports those critics. Researchers say that fracking wastewater must undergo more extensive treatment before it can be returned to the public supply, mostly into streams and rivers, according to

Fracking drilling is conducted by rushing hundreds of thousands of gallons of fresh water, sand, a drill, and a mix of several hundred chemicals into an underground well shaft until it all reaches an underground shale bed. The fracking fluid and drill blast apart the rock and release mostly methane gas that's rushed to the surface for collection and storage.

The wastewater created by the fracking process is supposed to rush to the surface, be collected, and then sent to water treatment facilities to remove any contaminants that drilling added. This latest study suggests that that process is not working properly and dangerous elements are making their way into public water supplies, even after treatment.

Researchers suggest that the toxins and nature of the water samples they collected for this study could be harmful to the environment and public health. Specifically, the study found that levels of chloride and bromide were still high in samples they collected where treated fracking wastewater was dumped. cites the study, noting that in addition to those contaminants, levels of radium were "200 times greater than upstream and background sediments and above radioactive waste disposal threshold regulations, posing potential environmental risks of radium bioaccumulation in localized areas of shale gas wastewater disposal."

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