The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) is ordering water treatment plants in the state to immediately test for radioactivity and other contaminants from Marcellus Shale wastewater.

The DEP said it decided to call for the expanded testing before receiving a similar request from Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Region III Administrator Shawn Garvin on March 7.

“Rest assured that well before receiving your letter, the Pennsylvania DEP has been focusing on issues related to natural gas drilling, and prioritizes protecting the environment and public health and safety above all else,” DEP Acting Secretary Michael Krancer wrote to Garvin on Wednesday.

In a March 11 letter the DEP ordered 14 public water suppliers located downstream from facilities that treat Marcellus wastewater to monitor for contaminants, such as total dissolved solids, chloride and bromide, as well as radioactive pollutants, such as gross alpha, radium 226 and 228, and uranium. Test results were due Monday (April 11).

On March 18 the DEP sent a letter to 25 treatment facilities that accept Marcellus wastewater, calling for similar testing of their effluent, or released fluids. Those results are due in mid-April as well.

Garvin’s letter followed a New York Times series that questioned whether lax regulation of Marcellus wastewater was threatening drinking water supplies in Pennsylvania (see Shale Daily, March 1). Garvin suggested that the EPA might step in if it felt the DEP wasn’t doing a good job (see Shale Daily, March 9).

The DEP believes it’s not getting the credit it deserves. “Unfortunately, your letter, along with the recent New York Times articles, overlooks DEP’s strong and ongoing efforts to protect the environment and public health,” Krancer wrote in his response.

Krancer noted that on the same day Garvin wrote to the DEP, the DEP released testing results from seven Pennsylvania rivers that showed radioactivity at or below “background levels” (see Shale Daily, March 8).

Krancer suggested that the DEP and EPA meet quarterly to discuss monitoring plans and regulatory updates.