Toxic Fracking Wastewater Banned in White Plains, New York

 

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Legislators and supporters celebrate fracking waste ban on the steps of the County office building this afternoon.

A coalition of health and environmental groups gathered in White Plains today to congratulate the Westchester County Board of Legislators for unanimously voting to prohibit the sale, application and disposal of waste products from natural gas drilling anywhere in the county.

The new law, which applies to all wastewater treatment plants and all roads within the county, bans the sale of fracking waste, the processing of fracking waste at wastewater treatment plants, and the spreading of fracking wastewater on roads including applications for de-icing and dust control purposes. The groups are urging County Executive Rob Astorino to sign the bi-partisan legislation immediately.

High volume hydraulic fracturing also known as “hydrofracking” or “fracking” involves drilling deep underground into shale deposits and injecting millions of gallons of water and hundreds of toxic chemicals at high pressure to fracture the shale and release the gas. Much of this highly toxic mixture returns to the surface with the gas along with other contaminants including heavy metals, volatile organic compounds, brine (approximately eight times saltier than sea water) and high levels of naturally occurring radioactive materials—including radium-226 and radium-228—which are known human carcinogens. Radium-226 has a half-life of 1600 years and is linked to bone, liver and breast cancers; other chemicals in fracking fluid are known carcinogens and endocrine disruptors.

“Whether or not hydrofracking is permitted in New York State, radioactive fracking waste poses an immediate public health threat since it is produced by vertical gas wells in New York and is permitted for de-icing and dust control and is also accepted from Pennsylvania for dumping in landfills in New York State” said Ellen Weininger, educational outreach director for Grassroots Environmental Education, based in Rye, New York.

“With lax oversight from the state and absence of federal regulations, local governments need to step in to protect their citizens from dangerous exposures. We strongly commend the board of legislators for fulfilling that responsibility entrusted to them by the people of Westchester County by passing this critically important legislation.”

Fracking involves drilling deep underground into shale deposits and injecting millions of gallons of water and hundreds of toxic chemicals at high pressure to fracture the shale and release the gas. Much of this highly toxic mixture returns to the surface with the gas along with other contaminants including heavy metals, volatile organic compounds, brine (approximately eight times saltier than sea water) and high levels of naturally occurring radioactive materials—including radium-226 and radium-228—which are known human carcinogens.

“By passing this law, Westchester County legislators recognize the importance of protecting its citizens from radioactive components and heavy metals that are present in gas drilling waste,” says Susan Van Dolsen, co-organizer of Westchester for Change.

“The law fills a void that exists in New York State due to a state regulation that classifies this waste as ‘industrial’ rather than ‘hazardous’ waste. We applaud our legislature’s pro-active decision.”

“This legislation is a crucial step toward protecting Westchester County residents from the harmful health effects of improper handling and disposal of fracking waste,” said Kate Hudson, watershed program director at Riverkeeper. “By preventing wastewater treatment plants from accepting this waste and prohibiting its use on roads, the county’s drinking water supplies will be safe from heavy metals, naturally occurring radioactive materials, brine and other pollutants that are the toxic byproducts of fracking.”

“This important legislation will protect Westchester County aquifers, reservoirs, rivers and streams, wetlands, lakes and ponds, and recharge areas,” said Marian Rose, PhD, president emeritus of Croton Watershed Clean Water Coalition.

Radioactive fracking waste from shale gas drilling can potentially cause irreversible damage to water, air, land and food supplies. Although this waste is hazardous and in fact exceeds the legal criteria for hazardous waste classification, it is categorized as “industrial” under federal and state laws as a result of special exemptions given to the oil and gas industry. These exemptions eliminate tracking requirements for its handling, storage, treatment and disposal of the waste.

Spreading radioactive fracking waste on roads will expose drivers, passengers and pedestrians to dangerous pollutants while contaminating nearby surface waters, residential areas, school properties and farmland. Radioactive particles may become airborne as trucks and passenger vehicles travel along roads. These events provide opportunity for human and livestock inhalation and ingestion of highly radioactive materials and other contaminants.

Wastewater treatment facilities are not designed to treat chemicals, contaminants and highly radioactive materials present in fracking waste. High bromide levels in this waste are highly corrosive to equipment and can react during water treatment to form brominated trihalomethanes, which are linked to bladder and colon cancers and are associated with birth defects.

Visit EcoWatch’s FRACKING page for more related news on this topic.

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