Mon pollution testing to expand to Allegheny, Ohio rivers
By Timothy Puko
Published: Tuesday, Dec. 4, 2012, 12:01 a.m.
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 Allegheny.
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 quality.”
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 email@example.com.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.