PITTSBURGH (KDKA) -- Environmental groups are suing the McKeesport and Franklin, Greene County, municipal authorities saying they are improperly treating gas drilling waste water.
"The salt, the chlorides, bromides which is causing a problem for drinking water plants," said Myron Arnowitt of Clean Water Action.
In the past two years, bromides hit dangerous levels in the Mon and are now spiking in the Allegheny. They're a concern because when mixed with chlorine in the water treatment plants they become trihalomethanes.
"The public should be concerned but not panicked," said Professor Jeanne VanBriesen of Carnegie Mellon University.
Trihalomethanes are carcinogenic and have been traced to cancers and birth defects, but VanBriesen cautions that health effects occur only over the long term.
"We're worried about people being exposed to this for a long time – not a short-term time period when it's elevated."
At same time, VanBriesen says bromides are a problem that cannot be ignored and that the source of the bromides must be identified and stopped. To that end, the state has ordered testing up and down the Allegheny River.
But while VanBreissen that the treatment of gas drilling waste water is a likely cause, so is waste water from coal-fired power plants which have been trying to reduce their air emissions.
"There have been some changes in how the coal-fired power plants are handling their waste water because as we increasingly improve our air quality by taking things out of the air, we put those things in the water," she said.
And so, Professor VanBriesen says it's not clear at this point where these bromides are coming from. She says what is clear, however, is that doing nothing about them is not an option.
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