The Iron City’s Radioactive: Pittsburgh’s Drinking Water Contamination

High levels of radium—a highly radioactive substance—have leaked into the drinking water supplies in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, as well as dozens of other cities in the area. A practice called fracking, which is a relatively new method used in drilling for natural gas, is the cause of the contamination.

In a NY Timesinvestigation, it was revealed that in “a 2009 study, never made public, written by an E.P.A. consultant who concluded that some sewage treatment plants were incapable of removing certain drilling waste contaminants and were probably violating the law.”

Contaminated wastewater was leaked into Pittsburgh‘s Monongahela River, a source of drinking water for more than 800,000 residents. Wastewater was found in the Susquehanna River as well, which feeds directly into the massive Chesapeake Bay, and is a source of drinking water for more than six million residents in Pennsylvania and Maryland.

Secretary of Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection, John Hanger wrote on his blog that, “The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection should order today all public water systems in Pennsylvania to test immediately for radium or radioactive pollutants and report as soon as good testing allows the results to the public. Only testing of the drinking water for these pollutants can resolve the issue raised by the NYT.”

Despite the known risks of contamination, fracking continues to be in use by natural gas companies, with plans to maintain drilling practices into the shale formation found in the ground from Virginia to New York State, putting New York City’s water—which has been recognized as some of the cleanest municipal drinking water in the country—in jeopardy of radioactive contamination.

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Photo: rpkelly22