Briny Water Flows Into Area Streams
Washington PA Observer Reporter
12 February 2013
By Natasha Khan
In the January cold, Ken Dufalla’s hands, chapped and raw, shake
as he grips a five-foot metal pole with a small, stained plastic
container attached and dunks it into the icy, orange-colored water
rushing into Ten Mile Creek.
“Even the ice is turning color! You ever seen red ice, Chuck?”
Dufalla screams to his buddy, retired high school history teacher
and Vietnam war vet Chuck Hunnell.
The rusty water is a highly acidic coal mine discharge flowing
from the abandoned Clyde Mine directly into Ten Mile Creek in East
Bethlehem Township in Washington County.
When Marcellus Shale drilling started to boom in Greene and
Washington counties, the two retired outdoorsmen began conducting
weekly water tests of local streams and tributaries. Dufalla, 66,
a retired park ranger and deputy fish and game warden, runs the
citizen water testing program for the local chapter of The Izaak
Walton League, a conservation group.
Members test every headwater stream in Greene County and many in
Washington and Fayette counties. And they’ve teamed up with West
Virginia University’s Water Research Institute to check their
methods and test some of the same water as the group.
On that January day, Dufalla and Hunnell, 69, were testing the
orangey-red acid mine discharge from the abandoned Clyde Mine
running into the creek.
Recently, Dufalla’s group has found there’s something unexpected
in mine waste – bromide.
On its own, bromide is a salt found in many places. But when it’s
mixed with chlorine at a water treatment plant, it can create
cancer-causing agents called trihalomethanes.
Dufalla wants to know where the bromide is coming from, since it
isn’t usually found at high levels in mine discharge.
He has repeatedly asked the federal Environmental Protection
Agency, the state Department of Environmental Protection, the
governor and energy industry officials, he said.
But he receives no answer or he’s brushed off.
Dufalla just wants someone to pay attention and investigate.
Without an answer from officials, Dufalla said he and members of
his group are left to form their own conclusions.
Somebody, they believe, must be dumping wastewater from hydraulic
fracturing, known as fracking, into coal mines.
When asked what safeguards are in place for disposing of frack
wastewater, a spokesman for the Marcellus Shale Coalition cited
the state’s “robust” regulatory system.
It “ensures a truly cradle-to-grave approach to the overall
management of water,” Travis Windle wrote in an email.
Bromides and drinking water
In recent years, numerous water treatment plants in Western
Pennsylvania and West Virginia have found dangerously high levels
of THMs in water they then had to treat for drinkability.
Jeff Kovach, general manager of the Tri-County Joint Municipal
Authority in Washington County, said his plant didn’t have
problems with THM levels before the drilling boom started. He said
he believes the natural gas industry was initially causing the
“In my own opinion, absolutely, because they are everywhere around
here,” said Kovach.
The discharge from Clyde Mine, an abandoned mine overseen by the
DEP, is “pretty scary,” he said.
The Tri-County plant is downstream on the Monongahela.
Greene County had more than 650 natural gas wells operating, while
Washington County had nearly 900 as of June 2012, according to the
It’s been widely reported that an increase in bromide in
Pennsylvania’s rivers came when the drilling industry dropped off
its wastewater from fracking – the horizontal drilling process
used in the Marcellus Shale – at sewage treatment plants.
In early 2011, DEP Secretary Michael Krancer called on the
industry to stop taking wastewater to treatment plants. The
industry voluntarily complied, and bromide levels on the
Monongahela decreased, according to a recent study from Carnegie
But Dufalla’s water testing from 2012 shows higher levels of
bromide in the creeks and streams funneling into the Monongahela
“Every one of them happens to be in mine discharges,” he said.
Dufalla said high bromide levels are coming out of two active
Cumberland Mine discharges and one Emerald Mine discharge, as well
as from the Clyde Mine.
The discharges flow into nearby streams that feed into the
Monongahela River, a source of drinking water for one million
Once bromide gets into rivers like the Monongahela, it is likely
to be so diluted that it isn’t a real threat. However, Dufalla
said that the EPA and DEP should take steps to prevent it from
getting into rivers and streams at all. The less bromide, the less
risk, he said.
Alpha Natural Resources, the company that owns the Cumberland and
Emerald mines, did not return PublicSource’s phone calls
A U.S. Geological Survey study looked at tests conducted in 1999
to determine the hydrochemical makeup of 140 abandoned mines in
Pennsylvania. The study found bromide showed up in all the mine
discharges that were sampled at less than .6 milligrams per liter.
The WRI sampled the same locations as Dufalla’s group in Greene
and Washington counties in November. They showed bromide coming
out of mine discharges at levels as much as 10 times higher than
the 1999 study.
“My guess is, if bromides are turning up in mine water, it’s
probably because someone has dumped it there,” said Paul
Ziemkiewicz, director of the WRI.
Dufalla said he informs the DEP when he finds an anomaly and the
agency has been good about testing the water over the past two
However, “the responses we get back are not acceptable,” he said.
“We were told, ‘Well, it’s only minimal pollution from these
things.’ We were told we don’t have the money to correct these
John Poister, DEP spokesman in Pittsburgh, said the agency
sometimes conducts bromide tests on some rivers and streams, but
isn’t required to.
The DEP’s California District Mining Office does not test coal
mine discharges for bromide, according to an email from Bill
Plassio, the district mining manager.
“There is no EPA standard for bromides, therefore we do not track
them in streams and creeks,” Poister said.
That’s where the problem comes in, Dufalla said.
“The EPA must set a standard for bromide,” he said, and if they
don’t, the DEP should.
Frack waste in coal mines?
Dufalla, like many in Southwestern Pennsylvania, has deep
connections to the land and its history. His father was a coal
miner for more than 35 years, some of it at the Clyde Mine. He now
leases his own 190-acre property in Greene County to Chesapeake
He said he doesn’t oppose the shale gas industry. He knows the
economic benefits and recognizes that natural gas and coal provide
jobs in Greene County, one of the poorest counties in the state.
He just wants the industry to be regulated.
Hunnell, one of the league’s water testers, put it this way: “We
don’t want to devastate the industry but we don’t want our lives
to be devastated in the process.”
To understand their perspective, it’s important to know something
about recent Greene County history and a man named Allan Shipman.
Shipman operated Allan’s Waste Water, which hauled Marcellus Shale
wastewater. He was convicted last year of dumping millions of
gallons of wastewater, sludge, restaurant grease and other sewage
into mine shafts, streams and onto roadsides for six years in
“I just think that there were a lot more people doing what he was
doing, but he was the only one that got caught,” said Greene
County Sheriff Richard Ketchem. “And then all of a sudden when he
got caught you don’t see that anymore.”
After a two-year investigation by the state attorney general’s
office, Shipman was sentenced to seven years of probation, 1,750
hours of community service and nearly $400,000 in fines and
Ketchem said he thinks Shipman’s conviction scared the industry
“I really think it turned things around in the entire industry,”
Others beg to differ.
Terri Davin, president of the Greene County Watershed Alliance,
said the industry has an “out of sight, out of mind” policy.
“My theory is, whenever there’s a hole, you can use it,” Davin
said of the dumping that takes place. “It’s open season down
Davin partially blames the residents of Greene County for not
speaking up about Shipman.
“The guilty people here are us,” she said about Greene County
residents. “We saw this happening and we didn’t come together and
She said that with the amount of natural gas drilling and coal
mining going on in Greene County, it’s better to question things
than to turn a blind eye.
Dufalla and his group are doing that.
Natasha Khan can be reached at 412-315-0261 or