Drinking Water in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and West Virginia at Risk for Toxic Contamination with “Forever Chemicals” from Fracking Operations
Research by the FracTracker Alliance, a non-profit organization dedicated to investigating health concerns and data gaps surrounding hydraulic fracturing in gas drilling in western Pennsylvania, has shown that PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) – commonly known as “forever chemicals” – used in fracking have been dumped at dozens of sites across Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia and could threaten contamination of the soil, groundwater and drinking water in these areas.
For at least a decade, PFAS have been used in hydraulic fracturing and other types of oil and gas wells across the country. Exposure to these chemicals has been linked to a host of health problems including kidney and testicular cancer, liver and thyroid problems, reproductive problems, lowered vaccine efficacy in children and increased risk of birth defects, among others. Regulatory loopholes and industry obfuscation make it impossible to know how extensively forever chemicals have been used in modern fracking techniques.
But a new map developed by the FracTracker Alliance using public data has revealed that at least eight Pennsylvania fracking wells have documented PFAS use in their fracs, PTFE (Polytetrafluoroethylene), commonly known as Teflon, that was at issue in DuPont’s contamination of waters in the Parkersburg, West Virginia/Marietta, Ohio, area. Thus far, in the last 10 years alone, these eight wells have generated more than 23 million gallons of liquid fracking waste and 30,390 tons of solid waste. FTA’s work has traced the waste from these eight wells and found that it has traveled to at least 97 additional sites for reuse and/or disposal. Experts have concluded that many of these secondary disposal sites are also likely to be contaminated by Teflon and other PFAS.
The problem with PFAS is that available methods to break down or neutralize other chemicals doesn’t work on them. PFAS never go away. As Robert Delaney, a retired geologist and Superfund specialist who spent 30 years working for the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality has pointed out “[r]idiculously small quantities can contaminate water way above what is safe for humans. When we talk about PFAS contamination, it’s in parts per trillion. Less than one gallon of PFAS can contaminate a trillion gallons of drinking water to a level that’s unsafe for humans.” What’s even scarier is that there is no legal limit for PFAS in drinking water at the federal level. However, earlier this year the EPA did announce new recommended health advisory limits for two of the most common PFAS: 0.004 parts per trillion for PFOA (Perfluorooctanoic acid) and 0.02 parts per trillion for PFOS (Perfluorooctane sulfonic acid).
Residents who live near the eight well pads where Teflon was used, or any of the sites where waste from those wells was disposed, can file a complaint with the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection at this link where they can request soil and groundwater testing for Teflon. And for anyone else who believes their water, property, or health is being impacted by their proximity to a fracking site, I would urge you to contact your state’s environmental protection agency as well as experienced legal counsel to explore your rights to keep your drinking water, property, and loved ones safe.