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Radioactivity from oil, gas wastewater persists in Pennsylvania stream sediments

Published: January 22, 2018
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More than seven years after Pennsylvania officials requested that the disposal of radium-laden fracking wastewater into surface waters be restricted, a new Duke University study finds that high levels of radioactivity persist in stream sediments at three disposal sites.

The contamination is coming from the disposal of conventional, or non-fracked, oil and gas wastewater, which, under current state regulations, can still be treated and discharged to local streams.

“It’s not only fracking fluids that pose a risk; produced water from conventional, or non-fracked, oil and gas wells also contains high levels of radium, which is a radioactive element. Disposal of this wastewater causes an accumulation of radium on the stream sediments that decays over time and converts into other radioactive elements,” said Avner Vengosh, professor of geochemistry and water quality at Duke’s Nicholas School of the Environment.

The level of radiation found in stream sediments at the disposal sites was about 650 times higher than radiation in upstream sediments. In some cases, it even exceeded the radioactivity level that requires disposal only at federally designated radioactive waste disposal sites.

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