Pennsylvania

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Federal Agency Finds One Out of Seven Water Wells Contaminated by Bradford County Blowout

Last April, a Chesapeake Energy natural gas well in Leroy Township, Bradford County blew out, sending natural gas into the air, and fluids onto the ground. The federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, or ATSDR, is a little-known division of the Department of Health and Human Services and works closely with the Centers for Disease Control.

ATSDR tested seven residential drinking water wells in the area near the Bradford County blow-out. On Monday, the Agency released its findings, concluding that one well was found to be contaminated by gas drilling activity.

One of the seven wells, Well No. 4, showed a 10-fold increase in methane and various salts, compared with samples taken in July 2010, before natural gas drilling began at the site. These chemicals are consistent with those expected to be mobilized from natural gas extraction activities. Adults and children drinking water from this well would exceed the recommended daily dietary guidelines for sodium. Lithium was detected at a level exceeding the EPA screening level. The lithium level could be of concern to people currently undergoing lithium therapy or taking certain drugs that interact with lithium.

The report says more information is needed to determine if the blowout caused the contamination, or if it’s due to other gas drilling activity. And the Agency recommends further longterm studies.

The ability to reach definitive conclusions is limited by the data available to ATSDR at this time. In order to reach more definitive conclusions, long term assessments should be undertaken, which could include:

  • Studying potential health effects from exposure to chemicals released or mobilized by natural gas activities into the air, water, soil, plants and animals, and potential differences in different parts of the country;
  • Testing of residential drinking water wells before, during and after natural gas activities.
ATSDR’s conclusions contradict an earlier report funded by Chesapeake Energy that concluded no adverse impacts resulted from the blowout and that residential water was safe to drink. But according to Monday’s ATSDR release, Chesapeake Energy and the Environmental Protection Agency continue to provide drinking water to three households.

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