Friday, June 10, 2016

CDC report contradicts 2012 EPA report on safety of contaminated rural Pa. drinking water

A recently released federal report contradicts the Environmental Protection Agency's 2012 report that said water wells in Dimock, Pa., were not contaminated by the oil and gas industry's use of horizontal hydraulic fracturing, Abraham Lustgarten reports for ProPublica. EPA in 2012 "declared that the water coming out of Dimock’s taps did not require emergency action, such as a federal cleanup. The agency’s stance was widely interpreted to mean the water was safe."

A report released last month by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, part of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, "warns that a list of contaminants EPA had previously identified were indeed dangerous for people to consume," Lustgarten writes. "The report found that the wells of 27 Dimock homes contain, to varying degrees, high levels of lead, cadmium, arsenic, and copper sufficient to pose a health risk. It also warned of a mysterious compound called 4-chlorophenyl phenyl ether, a substance for which the agency could not even evaluate the risk, and noted that in earlier water samples non-natural pollutants including acetone, toluene and chloroform were detected. Those contaminants are known to be dangerous, but they registered at such low concentrations that their health effects could not easily be evaluated. The water in 17 homes also contained enough flammable gas so as to risk an explosion."

Dimrock was featured in the 2010 documentary Gasland that "showed local residents lighting their tap water on fire because of the high amount of methane it contained. In March, the last plaintiffs in the case against Cabot Oil and Gas Corp. were awarded $4.24 million. The other families settled in 2012," Lustgarten notes. The methane could have been naturally occurring, but residents said the circumstances indicated otherwise.

"EPA had asked the ATSDR to help evaluate the health risks of its water samples back in 2011," Lustgarten writes. "At the time, ATSDR warned people not to drink their water, and promised a more complete evaluation." When asked how the agencies could come to different conclusions, "a spokesperson for EPA offered a seemingly cryptic explanation: EPA was testing whether the contaminants were 'hazardous,' while ATSDR was considering whether they were safe to drink. In a statement EPA sent to ProPublica, it described ATSDR report as 'useful information' for Dimock residents. The spokesperson promised that the agency would 'consider the findings.'”

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