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Former DEP Head Defends Pennsylvania's Environmental Regulations

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – Is Marcellus Shale drilling poisoning our rivers and threatening our drinking water?

The headline in the New York Times reads: "Regulation Lax As Gas Wells' Tainted Water Hits Rivers" and calls Pennsylvania ground zero.

But John Hanger, until recently the state's top environmental official, says the Times never spoke to him and ignored the state's monitoring and enforcement.

"This was a malicious attempt to mischaracterize how Pennsylvania regulates its industry," he said.

At issue is what is done with so-called frac water – the water and chemical which are used to free the gas from the shale and then returned to the surface.

Hanger says the Times virtually ignored the fact that 70 percent of the water is now treated in plants and then recycled. He says the other 30 percent is subject to new treatment regulations put into effect in August.

"We are concerned that these containment are definitely getting in the river," Myron Arnowitt with Clean Water Action said.

But environmentalists say some frac water is still not being treated or being under-treated and discharged into waterways. The Times is raising concern that much of it contains radioactive materials like radium and is ending up in the Monongahela River.

"This river is being used to dispose of waste water from the Marcellus Shale, there's clearly radioactivity that's getting into the river – we need to have a better idea of how much," he said.

Hanger says all of his information is that the radium is being discharged at very safe levels, but he called for immediate testing to make sure.

"There should be no compromise about the safety of Pennsylvania's drinking water and we just need to go test right away for the radium and find out what the numbers are, and if the numbers are below the safe water drinking act, I will count on the New York Times to prominently retract their story," Hanger said.

The Mon is the primary water source for Pennsylvania American Water and their spokesperson told KDKA Investigator Andy Sheehan they last checked their finished tap water for radioactivity in 2008 and it was "well within" federal and state standards.

"We will continue to follow the US EPA and PA DEP monitoring and sampling guidelines for radium at this time. Pennsylvania American Water's plants on the Mon River continue to surpass all federal and state drinking water standards."

Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection
New York Times: Regulation Lax As Gas Wells' Tainted Water Hits Rivers

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