Gas Exploration Threatens Northeastern River

July 1, 2010
American Rivers said the Upper Delaware is the most endangered river in the nation.

By Patrick Crow, Washington Correspondent

American Rivers said the Upper Delaware is the most endangered river in the nation. The group said the river -- which is the primary source of drinking water for 17 million people across New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania -- is at risk from chemicals used to release natural gas from underground shale formations.

American Rivers urged the Delaware River Basin Commission to ban shale fracking in the Upper Delaware watershed until a study of impacts is completed and the pollution potential of hydraulic shale fracturing is fully assessed.

The Upper Delaware River and its watershed overlie the Marcellus Shale geological formation. In order to produce natural gas in the shale, energy companies have acquired rights to explore large tracts of land and expect to drill thousands of wells in the next 20 years.

The environmental group said each well requires between three and five million gallons of water for fracturing and results in both surface water and groundwater pollution.

In a related development, the Pennsylvania Environmental Quality Board has approved regulations to prohibit the discharge of drilling wastewater containing high concentrations of total dissolved solids. Under the rules, wastewater discharges from drilling operations cannot exceed 500 mg/l.

Proposed Pesticide Rule

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has proposed a rule to reduce the volume of pesticides discharged in the nation’s waters. The action was in response to an April 9, 2009, court decision that declared that pesticide discharges to U.S. waters were pollutants that required a permit.

EPA’s proposed permit would require operators to reduce pesticide discharges by using the lowest effective amount of pesticide, prevent leaks and spills, calibrate equipment, and monitor for and report adverse incidents. Additional controls, such as integrated pest management practices, are built into the permit for operators who exceed an annual treatment area threshold.

Peter Silva, assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Water, said, “EPA believes this draft permit strikes a balance between using pesticides to control pests and protecting human health and water quality.”

The agency said the general permit would affect 35,000 pesticide applicators that perform 500,000 pesticide applications annually.

The draft permit covers the pesticides used for mosquito and other flying insect pest control; aquatic weed and algae control; aquatic nuisance animal control; and forest canopy pest control.

It does not cover terrestrial applications to control pests on agricultural crops or forest floors. EPA is requesting public comment on whether the permit should cover additional use patterns.

The agency planned to finalize the permit in December. It would take effect April 9, 2011, and apply to areas where EPA is the permitting authority. EPA was been working closely with 44 states that develop their own pesticide general permits.

NDMA Contamination

The American Chemical Society said an ingredient in shampoo, detergents and other household cleaning agents may be a source of precursor materials for formation of a suspected cancer-causing contaminant in water supplies.

ACS said the contaminant, N-Nitrosodimethylamine (NDMA), is of ongoing concern to health officials. NDMA and other nitrosamines can form during the disinfection of wastewater and water with chloramine.

Although nitrosamines are found in a wide variety of sources -- including processed meats and tobacco smoke -- scientists know little about their precursors in water. Past studies have found that substances called quaternary amines, which are also ingredients in household cleaning agents, may play a role in the formation of nitrosamines.

ACS said laboratory research showed that when mixed with chloramine, some household cleaning products -- including shampoo, dishwashing detergent and laundry detergent -- formed NDMA.

The ACS report said that sewage treatment plants may remove some of quaternary amines that form NDMA, but quaternary amines are used in such large quantities that some may persist in the effluents from sewage treatment plants.

In other Washington news:

-- EPA said the Pontotoc Union Lee Alliance has agreed to resolve stormwater-related violations of the Clean Water Act at two of its construction sites in Blue Springs, Miss. The alliance will pay penalties totaling $70,000.

-- The agency said E.I. DuPont de Nemours and Co. would pay a $59,000 civil penalty for discharging mercury at its polymer fiber manufacturing facility in Kinston, N.C., between September 2008 and March 2009.

-- EPA said Frontier Refining Inc. will pay a $900,000 penalty and perform compliance work for violations of surface impoundment regulations at its plant in Cheyenne, Wyo. Frontier allegedly stored hazardous wastes in a wastewater pond that was not constructed or operated properly.

-- The U.S. Geological Survey said a study has found that wastewater treatment plants that get more than 20% of their water from drug plants have higher concentrations of pharmaceuticals than plants that do not.

-- EPA has added more than 6,300 chemicals and 3,800 chemical facilities regulated under the Toxic Substances Control Act to a public database called Envirofacts.

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