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EPA Approved Harmful PFAS Chemicals For Fracking 9 Years After Toxicity Was Understood

Analies Dyjak @ Wednesday, August 25, 2021 at 3:03 pm -0400

 

Analies Dyjak, M.A. | Head of Policy & Perspectives   

A report earlier this month revealed that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) approved the use of PFAS chemicals for fracking, back in 2011. PFAS are a category of cancer-causing chemicals that were used in consumer products like Scotchgard, non-stick pans, water repelling clothing, and commercial products like fire fighting foam and Teflon. Certain PFAS chemicals are no longer being produced, or have been phased out because of their known impacts on human health. However, many other types of PFAS chemicals are still being used, and their widespread environmental damages are just beginning to be understood. These recent findings call into question why EPA approved harmful chemicals for an industry that is already a well known groundwater polluter.

How Does Fracking Pollute Water?

Hydraulic Fracturing or ‘fracking’ is a type of oil shale and natural gas extraction, where a mixture of water, chemicals, and sand are injected into the ground to push out trapped oil and gas. Each free-standing fracking rig can stretch 4 miles horizontally in each direction. Fluid leaks, wastewater mismanagement, and well construction can contaminate surrounding groundwater and soil. The process of hydraulic fracturing also uses a huge amount of water, which is less than ideal during a nationwide drought. Anywhere from 1.5 million to 16 million gallons of water are used to frack one free-standing well. 

Fracking Liquids Are Toxic, Carcinogenic, and Protected By Proprietary Claims

There are quite literally thousands of different chemicals that are used during the hydraulic fracturing process, and each has a different job to assist with oil and gas extraction. For example, acids help to dissolve minerals and other impediments to make the oil and gas flow faster through the ground. Corrosion inhibitors make sure that steel isn’t being damaged by other potentially corrosive fracking liquids. EPA identified 1,084 different fracking chemicals between 2005 and 2013 - many of which were protected under proprietary claims. 

Why Are PFAS Both Problematic and Effective?

When EPA approved the use of PFAS for fracking in 2011, scientists had already flagged their concerns years prior. EPA scientists responded to a consent order and ultimately advised the agency for more studies before authorizing their use for fracking. According to the New York Times, these studies were never completed and the administration gave companies the greenlight. So, what makes PFAS different from benzene, methanol and formaldehyde, and other toxic chemicals used by the fracking industry? There are two reasons why PFAS are so problematic: first, they persist in the environment for decades and can travel through water and soil without breaking down. Second, scientists already knew how dangerous these chemicals were before EPA approved their use in fracking. We know this because of the report based on a recent Freedom of Information Act request, and because companies started phasing out PFAS in 2002, 9 years before they were used in fracking. 

Fracking companies were desperate to use PFAS because of their effectiveness. PFAS are extremely hydrophobic, and help separate oil and gas from other properties used during the extraction process. This was such an attractive cost-saving measure that was too good to pass up.

Fracking is One of The Least Regulated Industries in the U.S.

The fracking industry is exempt from all sorts of reporting and disclosure requirements. In 2005, Vice President Dick Cheney called on Congress to ensure that the fracking industry would be safe from potential future regulations. Ironically, Vice President Cheney was the CEO of Halliburton - one of the largest fracking companies in U.S. - directly before taking office. Congress ultimately passed the Energy Policy Act in 2005, which prevented fracking liquids from being regulated under the Safe Drinking Water Act. In the regulatory world, we like to call this the Halliburton Loophole

Pollution From Fracking is More Widespread Than Previously Thought

Fracking was previously believed to only pollute nearby groundwater, but a recent study found that fracking liquids have made their way into surface waters as well. The study sites inadequately treated wastewater, fluid leaks, and flowbacks as the main sources of surface water contamination. Surface water, like lakes, rivers, and streams, are used by municipalities across the country for drinking water and recreational activities. The correlation between fracking and surface water pollution is concerning with the recent PFAS findings from EPA. 

Hydroviv filters are NSF certified to remove PFAS chemicals, and out-competed major brands in a recent Duke University PFAS removal study

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Hidden Effects of Drought on Drinking Water

Emily Driehaus @ Monday, August 9, 2021 at 3:49 pm -0400

 

Emily Driehaus | Science Communication Intern

As the drought in the western United States continues to impact water supplies, the risk for long-term damage to drinking water systems increases daily. Although they are not always readily apparent, prolonged drought brings the potential for issues that can be costly to manage and cause problems for years to come. 

Seawater Intrusion

Seawater or saltwater intrusion occurs near coastal areas when groundwater supplies become too low to keep seawater from flowing into groundwater aquifers. Groundwater meets seawater near coastal areas in transition zones, where the water pressure of groundwater keeps seawater from getting into aquifers. During a drought, these groundwater levels may not be replenished quickly enough to maintain enough water pressure to keep seawater out. Continued pumping of groundwater through groundwater wells can exacerbate this, as this further reduces groundwater pressure. When seawater does make its way into groundwater aquifers, the damage can be costly to manage. If the affected aquifer is used for drinking water, public water systems have to effectively treat the water to make it safe for drinking. Seawater intrusion may leave some water sources unusable, resulting in the need to find new sources in an already limited area.

Land Subsidence

Depleted groundwater can also cause land to sink, also known as land subsidence. When groundwater stores are not replenished, soil becomes compacted due to the lack of water pressure and the loss of volume groundwater takes up below the surface. Land subsidence can permanently damage groundwater aquifers, resulting in a decreased capacity even after groundwater stores are replenished. Continued pumping of groundwater wells can make land subsidence even worse, especially during a prolonged drought such as what is currently being seen in the western U.S. 

Infrastructure Damage

Both seawater intrusion and land subsidence can damage critical infrastructure, specifically drinking water systems. Contamination from seawater intrusion can render some water sources unusable, which can be costly to fix. This can also result in the need for new pipes and systems to be built to use a different water source. Because drought also leads to water stagnation, bacteria and other microorganisms are able to grow in stagnant water and can contaminate drinking water supplies. Land subsidence can result in damage to groundwater aquifers and other equipment used in water systems, such as pumps. Underground pipes can also sustain damage when the soil gets compacted and sinks, resulting in pipe breaks and potentially damaging other parts of the system.

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What You Need To Know About PFAS Chemicals in Rainwater:

Christina Liu @ Monday, July 26, 2021 at 6:06 pm -0400
Researchers across the country have begun studying the presence of PFAS chemicals in rainwater. This phenomenon comes at a time when Congress and health officials are making important decisions about this toxic contaminant. PFAS or ‘forever chemicals’ are now believed to be present in all major U.S. water supplies. Our team discusses everything you need to know about the most recent research and what PFAS in rainwater means for you. 

Uranium in Drinking Water: What You Need to Know

Christina Liu @ Thursday, July 8, 2021 at 8:11 pm -0400
The US Geological Survey (USGS) recently released a study showing that private well water across Connecticut contained elevated levels of uranium and arsenic. While uranium is commonly found in well water, it can also be found in municipal water systems. Uranium is commonly detected in water systems that have groundwater as a source, especially ones with naturally occurring uranium in the bedrock. This article addresses some basic questions you may have about uranium in drinking water and what you can do about it.  

PFAS Water Filters for New York State

Christina Liu @ Wednesday, July 7, 2021 at 5:59 pm -0400
The State of New York recently implemented testing requirements and water quality standards for 2 PFAS variations: PFOA and PFOS. PFAS (Per and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances) are a federally unregulated contaminant known to cause adverse health effects, including cancer. These new requirements have forced municipalities to take a closer look at the safety of their drinking water. This article will address what PFAS compounds are, the "safe" levels in New York State drinking water, and water filtration brands that actually remove them.