According to a new study, treated oil and gas wastewater can leave radioactive deposits in stream beds over time.
The study, which was carried out by Duke University researchers, discovered greatly increased levels of radium in mud at a site where three Pennsylvania treatment plants released their wastewater. Avner Vengosh, the professor of geochemistry that led the research team, claims radium levels are far safer only just beyond the site.
“We found that, indeed, there is a large enrichment of radioactive elements in those stream sediments,” Vengosh said. “It’s about 600 times the level that we found upstream.”
According to the companies responsible for the treated wastewater and the industry at large, certain levels of radioactivity are inevitable in water from oil and gas wells, as they occur naturally at low levels. However, the levels of radioactivity discovered by the researchers far exceed these mentioned “low levels” by the industry.
“I don’t think there is a direct human health risk immediately from those sites,” said Vengosh. “But there is a chronic contamination of the environment. Even the treatment, it’s not sufficient to address this problem.”