DEP’s Testing Methods For Radiation In Ten Mile Creek Questioned
Washington PA Observer-Reporter
30 July 2015
By Natasha Khan, PublicSource, firstname.lastname@example.org
Tests continue on drainage from Clyde Mine in East Bethlehem
Township for radiation and bromide levels. The mine, which is
abandoned, is the responsibility of the Pennsylvania Department of
State officials tested for radioactivity in a major tributary to
the Monongahela River, as well as discharge water from an
abandoned mine that flows into it, after significant rainfall in
That led environmental groups who repeatedly asked the
Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection for the
investigation to question whether the agency purposely tested Ten
Mile Creek after June’s heavy rains, which could have diluted the
“DEP’s recent sampling of Ten Mile Creek flies in the face
of common sense and reveals a disturbing lack of seriousness that
is dismissive of the community in Greene County and the
significance of this situation,” Patrick Grenter, executive
director of the Center for Coalfield Justice in nearby Washington
County, wrote in an email.
On June 22 and 23, department officials tested the creek– which
feeds into a major source of drinking water for the Mon Valley –
the inactive Clyde Mine discharge near Clarksville and Tri-County
Municipal Water Authority downstream from the discharge.
The creek water was flowing about 10 and six times more than the
normal rate for those days, respectively, according to historical
U.S. Geological Survey water data.
The DEP declined to answer questions about why officials tested on
those days in late June.
“We are not responding to questions regarding the (Ten) Mile
Creek sampling until we see the lab results and (have) had an
opportunity to analyze them,” said John Poister, a DEP spokesman.
“We do not want to speculate on any aspect of the project at this
time. Nothing is set in stone regarding this project – and if the
results indicate we need to take further steps, we will.”
The department expects results from these samples at the end of
August, Poister said.
Ken Dufalla, local chapter president of the Izaak Walton League
conservation group in Greene County, called the testing a joke.
“We are not going to accept these results.”
Initial DEP water sampling from the creek and mine discharge from
April 2014 showed high levels of radioactive materials and other
chemicals typically related to Marcellus Shale drilling
More than a year later, in early June, the DEP said it would more
thoroughly test the water, sediment and fish to evaluate the scope
of the problem and whether it could be a public health concern. It
said it would also try to determine whether the pollution could be
coming from shale gas drilling.
Test results released last week from West Virginia University’s
Water Research Institute show radiation levels in the creek and
mine discharge were below federal limits for safe drinking water,
according to director Paul Ziemkiewicz. Those samples were taken
on June 25.
Three water quality experts told PublicSource that high water
flow in the creek those June days would dilute the water and
affect the detection of chemicals, but that rainfall would likely
leave the Clyde Mine discharge unaffected.
And it’s the Clyde Mine discharge that could be the source of
possible radioactive pollution in the creek, one expert said.
“That should really be the focus,” said Avner Vengosh, a
geochemist at Duke University.
The initial sampling the DEP did on the mine discharge and the
creek in April 2014 showed high levels of radionuclides, including
radium 226 and radium 228, and bromides in the abandoned Clyde
Mine discharge water.
These chemicals are not typical of what you’d see in coal mine
discharges, but rather are common in fracking wastewater, water
quality experts said.
Vengosh’s research group also tested the Clyde Mine discharge in
June for radioactive elements and other chemicals associated with
Marcellus Shale, but decided not to test the creek because of the
Vengosh said he has doubts about the other test results and he
expects his group’s results to bring a clearer picture of how much
radioactive material is present, where it’s coming from and how it
could be affecting the creek.
Poister, the DEP spokesman, said the department used an
inexpensive testing method called gamma spectroscopy for its 2014
sampling, but will use more precise methods following EPA
standards for analyzing its June samples.
The results released by the West Virginia researchers have been
interpreted in different ways by media and the gas industry,
depending on which radiation readings they focused on. The WVU
results show most radionuclides were detected at levels well below
federal safe drinking water limits, but shows one, gross alpha,
close or at the limit, which could indicate there is a larger
Energy in Depth, a gas industry public relations website, and
other local media focused on the low levels of radionuclides
detected, while the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported the WVU data
indicates there is evidence of radiation in Clyde Mine likely
linked to past dumping of shale gas wastewater.
The WVU researchers sent their samples to a certified lab in
Greensburg that used EPA-approved methods for the analysis,
He said the tests did show higher-than-normal levels of bromides,
a salt associated with the Marcellus Shale, coming from the Clyde
Mine. This could still be an indicator that shale water is
present, Ziemkiewicz said.
When mixed with chlorine at a drinking water treatment facility,
bromides can create carcinogenic chemicals called trihalomethanes.
The Tri-County Municipal Water Authority, one of the DEP’s June
sampling sites, has exceeded safe drinking water limits of these
chemicals numerous times in recent years.
If the new testing and research points to a problem with radiation
or bromides in the creek, and they can prove it’s coming from the
Marcellus Shale, then the big question becomes, “How is it getting
That’s one of the most intriguing questions, Vengosh said.
Dufalla, of the Izaak Walton League, has speculated for years that
it’s coming from someone illegally dumping fracking wastewater
into abandoned coal mines in the area.
Regardless of what’s causing it, Vengosh said the main focus for
regulators and scientists should be figuring out how the water
discharging into the stream is affecting the environment and
health of area residents.
Local school to test water
After PublicSource published a story on June 5 about possible
radiation in Ten Mile Creek, the superintendent of
Bethlehem-Center School District in Washington County decided to
have the water tested inside the schools.
Linda Marcolini, superintendent of the district in Fredericktown,
said tests for radiation and other chemicals will be done on the
water inside the three buildings on the school district’s campus.
“I’m trying to err on the side of caution,” she said. “It
may be nothing, but it may be something.”
If the tests do show the presence of radiation or some chemicals,
she said, “This might be a big thing down here.”
The water will be tested as a safety precaution, she said, for the
1,300 K-12 students who come from Beallsville, Centerville,
Deemston, Marianna and East Bethlehem.
Marcolini said she has not received any calls from parents, but
decided to set up the tests after learning about possible
pollution in the creek.
The school gets its water from the Southwestern Pennsylvania Water
Authority, located in Jefferson, Greene County.
To reassure customers that the water is safe from radiation, plant
manager Tom Goughenour said they are also testing the water at the
authority for radionuclides.
PublicSource is an investigative news organization that
collaborates with newspapers and radio throughout Pennsylvania.
Learn more at publicsource.org.
Reach Natasha Khan at 412-315-0261 or email@example.com.
Follow her on Twitter @khantasha.