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Is Radioactivity in Your Drinking Water OK with You?

NYTimes Drilling Down

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Urge Governor Cuomo to Extend Executive Order No. 41

The ground-breaking New York Times series by Ian Urbina, documents an extensive and disturbing amount of information that was gathered from EPA, state regulators and gas drilling companies, not previously made available, either to the public or to key government regulators and decision-makers. The EPA memo reveals that Pittsburgh residents suffered “one of the largest failures in US history to supply clean drinking water” due in part to fracking wastes.

According to the Times, the drilling industry has also hidden the conclusions reached by its own studies, while publicly taking the position that the radioactive elements in drilling waste are not a concern, including a confidential industry study that agreed with EPA’s conclusion that radioactivity in drilling waste cannot be fully diluted by discharging it into rivers and other waterways. Another study in l990 found that radium in drilling wastewater dumped in the Louisiana coast posed “potentially significant risks” of cancer for people who regularly eat fish from those waters.

Nevertheless, the second Times article in the series reported that millions of gallons of drilling wastewater are treated at plants that continue to discharge their treated waste into rivers. Despite the potential health and environmental hazards associated with radioactive wastewater, federal regulators recently confirmed to the gas industry that drilling waste remains exempt from federal hazardous waste law.

The third article in the series reveals that a deeply divided EPA has failed to increase needed regulation of oil and gas drillers and to enforce existing federal pollution laws that some agency lawyers insist are clearly being violated. As an EPA lawyer explained in an internal memo obtained by the Times, “Treatment plants are not allowed under federal law to process mystery liquids . . . . Mystery liquids is exactly what this drilling waste is.”

We are asking you to take action now to urge Governor Cuomo to extend Executive Order No. 41 for at least a year beyond June 1, 2011 to afford DEC the time necessary to update the DSGEIS on a comprehensive basis, incorporating a cumulative impact analysis, and to take steps to ensure that DEC has the staff and budget necessary to complete the State Environmental Quality Review (SEQRA) process and to do a formal rule-making after that process is complete.