Recent testing by the West Virginia Water Research Institute has found evidence of radiation contamination in water discharges from the abandoned underground Clyde Mine in Washington County near the Monongahela River that are likely related to past dumping of shale gas drilling wastewater.
The new water test findings were announced last week as the state Department of Environmental Protection continues to investigate radiation levels in Ten Mile Creek, a Monongahela River tributary in southern Washington County, and several abandoned mine discharges in the area. DEP tests done in April 2014 but released only last month in response to a citizen’s Right-to-Know request found radium at levels up to 60 times higher than allowed by federal drinking water standards.
The water research institute testing, conducted on June 25 of this year, did not support the DEP’s 2014 findings of widespread radiation contamination, except for the Clyde Mine discharge, which also contained high levels for bromides. Shale gas drilling wastewater often contains high concentrations of bromides, salts and other dissolved solids as well as natural radioactive elements picked up during the drilling and hydraulic fracturing of shale formations deep underground.
“There’s something going on there that’s not right,” said Paul Ziemkiewicz, a mine drainage expert and director of the water research institute. “The radiation, together with higher bromide levels than you would expect to see coming out of a deep mine, point to drilling wastewater. It’s something that’s worth continuing to take a look at.”
The 15-month-old DEP test results showing high radium readings triggered concern that Ten Mile Creek and more than 1.6 trillion gallons of water trapped in a maze of abandoned underground mines had been contaminated by radioactivity, said Ken Dufalla, president of the Harry Enstrom Chapter of the Izaak Walton League of America in Greene County, and the person who filed the Right-to-Know request.
Ten Mile Creek is a major tributary of the Monongahela River, joining the river 66 miles south from Pittsburgh’s Point at the boundary between Washington and Greene counties. The creek has a long history of pollution from mining operations and its drainage contains many shale gas development sites. Despite that industrial activity, the creek is a popular warm-water fishery and its mouth is heavily used by recreational boaters.
“We’re going to get to the bottom of this,” said Mr. Dufalla, who asked the water research institute to do the water tests. “If the radiation is in the water, let’s stop it and keep it from flowing to Pittsburgh. I’m going to keep turning every stone over until we find out what’s going on.”
The DEP conducted a second round of tests at the Clyde and Cumberland mine discharges and on the creek in late June, during higher than normal water flows, and will release its results in late August or early September, said John Poister, a DEP spokesman.
Mr. Dufalla and Mr. Ziemkiewicz said the tests done when the creek was flowing high are unlikely to show high radiation contamination because the creek samples would be diluted.
“We’re not going to address that issue until we see the new test results. If the results show a problem, and we have to go back in and resample at some locations, we will,” Mr. Poister said. “We want to find out exactly what’s in the water and where it came from.”
Don Hopey: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1983. Twitter: @donhopey