Radioactive water near fracking pond has Mount Pleasant residents worried

DEP says levels like dental X-ray, not dangerous


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Kimberly Staub was worried Wednesday when a blue steel container of radioactive sludge as big as a truck roll-off box showed up near Range Resources' Carter impoundment, just over the hill from her Mount Pleasant farm in Washington County.

And a little scared, too.

"I'm scared for my family and my animals," said Ms. Staub, who moved into the 17.5-acre farm in 2009, just months before Range began digging the football field-sized impoundment 850 feet from her back door.

"We didn't know what the blue box was at first, but then we were able to read the name 'SunPro' on the side and 'radioactive,' " she said Friday. "I called the Department of Environmental Protection, and they were never informed. That was frustrating."

She said she was later told by a DEP inspector that there had been a spill of radioactive water near "weir tanks," which were set up next to the impoundment to separate solid particles from the water and chemical mixture used to hydraulically fracture the gas-containing shale.

"My springs pick up on the hill where the impoundment [property] begins," Ms. Staub said.

"I'm worried they could be contaminated. I just want a meeting with Range officials and a water tank for a month while the radiation tests are being analyzed."

But John Poister, a DEP spokesman, said the ground under the weir tanks was checked by DEP inspectors who found no indication that any radioactive water was spilled at the site.

Mr. Poister did confirm that radiation just outside the blue steel container on the Carter impoundment site was measured at 350 microrems per hour, which he described as "about the equivalent of a dental X-ray."

The radiation measurements decline to near background levels just feet away from the container, he said, adding that there is no danger to drilling company workers or residents in the sparsely settled rural location.

Normal background radiation in the area is between six and eight microrems.

Based on his conversations with DEP inspectors, Mr. Poister said Range had hired a contractor, SunPro Inc., headquartered in South Fayette, to clean out the weir tanks at the Carter impoundment and transport the bottom sludge to the Arden Landfill in Chartiers, Washington County.

He said the container is holding sludge approximately 4 inches thick topped by 20 inches of water.

On the way to the landfill, the truck stopped at the SunPro headquarters and workers took a radiation measurement, Mr. Poister said, "because they want to know if they have a hot box."

Mr. Poister said it's "not uncommon" for wastewater to have picked up natural radiation washed from the underground shale formation.

"And in this case," Mr. Poister said, "the problem occurred because when you have sludge you have concentrated a lot of the solids containing radiation material."

The container was driven back to the Carter impoundment where samples were taken and sent to an independent lab for analysis and characterization.

"That will take about a month," Mr. Poister said.

"If the readings are low, it could still end up in a landfill here. Or, if they are high, the sludge will be taken out of state to a landfill that specializes in radioactive disposal."

Range sent a one-page letter to residents living near the Carter impoundment Friday, acknowledging the concerns and explaining that the radiation readings and disposal protocols were not out of the ordinary.

Don Hopey: dhopey@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1983.


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