Radioactive water? You're soaking in it, Pa.
OK, so it's not Cate Blanchett's Oscar dress or Chase Utley's knee or anything, but there was a story today of super interest to anyone who lives here in the Keystone State and drinks the water. You probably didn't see it because it ran in an out-of-state publication (the New York Times) with, at least in the online version, a boring headline. I wish it had gotten Daily News style treatment, as in something like: "HEY, PENNSYLVANIA, THAT GLASS OF WATER YOU'RE DRINKING COULD KILL YOU!!!"
Did I mention that this involves fracking?
Here's the nuts and bolts of the NYT story:
While the existence of the toxic wastes has been reported, thousands of internal documents obtained by The New York Times from the Environmental Protection Agency, state regulators and drillers show that the dangers to the environment and health are greater than previously understood.
The documents reveal that the wastewater, which is sometimes hauled to sewage plants not designed to treat it and then discharged into rivers that supply drinking water, contains radioactivity at levels higher than previously known, and far higher than the level that federal regulators say is safe for these treatment plants to handle.
Other documents and interviews show that many E.P.A. scientists are alarmed, warning that the drilling waste is a threat to drinking water in Pennsylvania. Their concern is based partly on a 2009 study, never made public, written by an E.P.A. consultant who concluded that some sewage treatment plants were incapable of removing certain drilling waste contaminants and were probably violating the law.
Here is more:
The risks are particularly severe in Pennsylvania, which has seen a sharp increase in drilling, with roughly 71,000 active gas wells, up from about 36,000 in 2000. The level of radioactivity in the wastewater has sometimes been hundreds or even thousands of times the maximum allowed by the federal standard for drinking water. While people clearly do not drink drilling wastewater, the reason to use the drinking-water standard for comparison is that there is no comprehensive federal standard for what constitutes safe levels of radioactivity in drilling wastewater.
So what happens is that this wastewater goes to treatment plants that aren't testing for radioactivity and aren't equipped to do anything about it anyway. Typically, this wastewater then heads toward the intake systems for drinking water along major rivers such as the Monongahela, the Susquehanna, and the Delaware, which of course is a major source of tap water for the Philadelphia region.
Look, these stories come off as complicated, but the big picture of what's happening here in Pennsylvania is really quite simple, and it's more than a little scary. Our state has turned itself over to the oil-and-gas industry, which to feed our addiction to fossil fuels is running amok with an unproven technology with unknown but possibly grave environmental risks. To curry favor in Harrisburg, the industry has been flying key lawmakers to party at the Super Bowl while showering an obscene amont of campaign contributions on our new governor, The result is an out-of-control industry that not only is unregulated, but -- unlike every other state with substantial drilling activity -- isn't even paying taxes on the profits, even when the state is closing a $5 billion budget hole on the backs of the working poor.
And the worst part is that we're stuck with a governor and with lawmakers that are representing big business -- and not the public -- for the next four years. If we leave it up to Harrisburg, the Pennsylvania state fish could be the three-eyed bass by the year 2013. The people need to stop the menace of fracking before then, by any means necessary -- even if it means turning to that "socialistic big government" down in Washington. D.C., because somebody needs to be the grown-up here.
Because right now, something stinks about the tap water in Pennsylvania. You might even say it glows.