Mon Testing Expands to Allegheny, Ohio Rivers
4 December 2012
By Timothy Puko
A water testing program that helped limit mine pollution’s impact
in the long-troubled Monongahela River basin is expanding to the
Allegheny and Ohio rivers, where some hope it can help guard
drinking water sources.
The West Virginia Water Research Institute will expand its
monitoring program to all the Three Rivers to build a public
database with pollution levels and environmental conditions
updated twice a month. Having monitored the Mon for more than
three years, the rechristened Three Rivers QUEST takes its first
demonstration sampling of the Ohio and the Allegheny near the
Point at 1 p.m. Tuesday.
The move is one of several new research efforts tracking the
region’s recent shale gas drilling boom. Although some research,
state intervention and cooperation from drillers seem to have cut
pollution in the Mon basin, the Allegheny struggles with an
increase in the salt bromide, complicating efforts to get safe
drinking water to about 250,000 people in the Pittsburgh area.
“Anything that anyone does in terms of source water protection in
the Allegheny is appreciated,” Pittsburgh Water and Sewer
Authority spokeswoman Melissa Rubin said, noting that authority
researchers benefited from working with Three Rivers QUEST
researchers before. The authority draws all its water from the
Bromide occurs naturally, commonly appearing during deep shale
drilling from salty underground deposits. It can combine with
chlorine during water treatment to form carcinogens.
The program’s biggest success on the Mon was in helping coordinate
waste dumps from mine operators on the river’s tributaries,
institute director Paul Ziemkiewicz said. Once their sampling
showed how and when releases affected the tributaries, he could
help companies time their releases for when high-flow conditions
could absorb them, he said.
With good data on the Ohio and Allegheny rivers and outreach
efforts from researchers, industrial operators could do the same
on those rivers if necessary, he added.
“It’s not a particularly hard thing to do,” said Ziemkiewicz,
whose program Consol Energy Inc. has helped fund. Colcom
Foundation, which supports environmental projects, will fund the
expansion. “If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it. What
we’re really looking for are managed options to maintain river
Drinking water plants that supply Pittsburgh have used new
cleaning techniques or have tried to get the carcinogenic
byproducts of bromide to evaporate from the water. Those programs
can be expensive, PWSA researchers say.
Researchers at the PWSA would like to stop the sources, which
their samples have suggested are several plants that treat
industrial wastewater. But the state, which has authority, won’t
intervene because the amounts of bromide and other solids
throughout the Allegheny don’t exceed legal safety levels, said
John Poister, spokesman for the Department of Environmental
Protection in Pittsburgh.
Bromide can be a tricky pollutant to track, and constant
monitoring from Three Rivers QUEST could help better define and
explain the problem, eventually leading to better, more
cost-effective solutions, Ziemkiewicz said. A system with
major-university support can do the specialized testing to figure
out what pollution comes from new industry such as gas drilling
and old industry such as mining and mills, said Bruce Dickson of
the Iron Furnace Chapter of Trout Unlimited.
“It’s going to be a one-of-a-kind effort on a very broad, broad
scale,” said Dickson, a Forest County resident and the group’s
Marcellus shale coordinator. “It’d be great if we found nothing
and had nothing to worry about. But we’re not going to know that
until we collect these samples.”
Timothy Puko is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be
reached at 412-320-7991 or firstname.lastname@example.org.