Popular Posts

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

DEP shelves more stringent water test


The state is not using its most stringent test to review for contaminants in residential drinking water near Marcellus shale drilling.
For more than four years, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection has had the ability to test for 45 contaminants in its water-sample analysis.
But according to DEP data, the computer code that determines what substances will be tested has not been used in at least two years. It’s been shelved in favor of two codes that test for fewer than half the number of substances.
The Times confirmed the existence of the third so-called suite code and how the codes were used only after it filed a Right to Know request in November. The information was released, as required by law, on Dec. 31.
The unused code is called Suite Code 944 or Marcellus Inorganic Survey in DEP data. It was developed in 2008, two years before the creation of Suite Code 946, which tests for only 23 contaminants, 22 fewer chemicals.
The other code used, Suite Code 942, was developed in 1991 and tests for 14 substances. According to DEP data, it actually has been the code most commonly used in the past two years.
The data states Suite Code 942 was used at least 300 times, and Suite Code 946 was used at least 210 times in 2011 and 2012. Suite Code 944 was not used once.
Experts name the absence of a few key metals from Suite Code 942 as a concern.
The following contaminants are tested with Suite Code 944 but not with the other two codes: ammonia, Kjeldahl nitrogen, nitrate and nitrite, phosphorus, carbon, cyanide (distilled and weak acid dissociable), sulfide, beryllium, boron, fluoride, cadmium, chromium, cobalt, copper, lead, thallium, molybdenum, silver, antimony, tin, titanium, phenols and mercury.
“In my opinion, the absence of metals (such as) selenium, arsenic, mercury and chromium from Suite Code 942 is problematic,” said Yuri Gorby, a microbial physiologist and bioprocess engineer who is an associate professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, N.Y. “These metals are known environmental contaminants with established toxicological effects.”
He said selenium can cause nausea, vomiting, nail discoloration and brittleness and hair loss.
Arsenic, Gorby said, affects cellular energy pathways, DNA synthesis and repair, while mercury is a neurotoxin and can cause memory loss, inability to concentrate, exaggerated response to stimulation, numbness and tingling in hands and feet, muscle loss and tremors.
“These symptoms are common in gas field residents,” he said.
Gorby said Suite Code 946 “should be used as a bare minimum to ensure public safety. But they should also include mercury and chromium, which are covered by the unused code, (Suite Code) 944.”
DEP spokesman Kevin Sunday would not say why Suite Code 944 hasn’t been used in the past two years, or why it tests for so many more substances than the other two codes.
“DEP grants its inspectors the discretion to request various analyses from the laboratory,” he said. “These suites and standard analysis codes are one component used in our investigations and there are, of course, others.
“DEP personnel use these tools and others when conducting investigations into a water supply complaint from gas extraction activities. Such investigations are necessarily site and fact specific.”
Sunday also said that suite codes are used to test for “critical parameters relevant to making a particular determination” and water complaint investigations include other factors in addition to sampling data.
But state Rep. Jesse White, D-46, Cecil Township, who first broke the suite code reporting issue in November, doesn’t buy the DEP’s story.
“This is almost unbelievable,” he said. “The DEP developed a suite code to fully analyze for impacts of Marcellus shale, and not only did they never use it, they never even told anyone it existed. This is a slap in the face to Pennsylvanians and a clear sign that the Corbett administration simply cannot be trusted to have an honest conversation about this critical issue. If this isn’t willfully obstructing the truth from the people of Pennsylvania, I don’t know what is.”
White also has written and plans to introduce House Bill 268, which would require the DEP to report full and complete results of any tests conducted for residents, including raw data and documentation. The bill also would require that this information be made available at no cost to landowners by written request within five business days.
White isn’t the only elected official who has voiced concern regarding the DEP’s water-testing practices.
Newly sworn-in Auditor General Eugene DePasquale has made clear his plans to conduct an audit of the state DEP to ensure the agency has the resources to protect the state’s water supplies from pollution from drilling activity. DePasquale worked for the DEP under former Gov. Ed Rendell.

No comments:

Post a Comment