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Bill DiBenedetto headshot

West Virginia Landfill Wastewater Shows Elevated Radioactivity Due to Fracking


Great, why not have some radioactivity in wastewater with your fracking?

The list of perils and impacts from the hydraulic fracturing method of extracting natural gas is mounting, and the latest is that radioactivity is showing up in wastewater from gas field landfills in West Virginia that serve as disposal sites for Marcellus Shale cuttings, Public News Service reports.

Bill Hughes, chair of the Wetzel County Solid Waste Authority, is quoted in the report as saying tests on water leaching from the Meadowfill landfill near Bridgeport show “widely varying levels of radioactivity, sometimes spiking to 40 times the clean drinking water standard.” The radioactivity occurs naturally in the drill cuttings and brine that come from Marcellus gas wells, he said, so it is in the waste dumped in Meadowfill and other landfills.

"We are putting radioactive waste in a bunch of landfills in large quantities, and we don't yet know the long-term danger of doing this," Hughes said.

The report continues: “Water leaching from Meadowfill averaged 250 picocuries per liter last year." The clean drinking water standard is 50, Hughes explained, adding that at times Meadowfill spiked as high as 2,000 picocuries or dropped below 40. Wetzel -- another local landfill taking large amounts of the waste -- also showed radioactivity, Hughes said.

That sounds pretty bad, even if it is “just” a landfill situation. According to the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection, landfills are a safe and appropriate place to put the drill cuttings. And Hughes says: "It might not be a significant problem, because we've put a lot of other nasty stuff into the Ohio River. But especially after [the January Elk River chemical spill], we should really want to know what we are putting into the landfills and what's going into surface waters.

"We haven't normally been putting radioactive material in a municipal waste landfill. We're not set up to process, handle, test, dispose. We don't know what we're doing," Hughes continued.

Join the club when it comes to fracking. Fracking’s impact on air pollution, property values and earthquake surges — just to mention several items — now has radiation as an issue. Is fracking really worth it?

The concerns about radioactive drill cuttings have prompted West Virginia lawmakers to increase monitoring at the landfills. But that’s only mildly comforting: Is the state — and the nation — moving fast enough on the issue? The barn door is open, and the horse is romping free.

Image: "Fracking a well..." by WV Frack via Flickr

Bill DiBenedetto headshot

Writer, editor, reader and generally good (okay mostly good, well sometimes good) guy trying to get by.

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