Friday, August 5, 2011

Can contaminated groundwater be remediated?

I am constantly hearing about how natural gas development destroys drinking water aquifers. Destroying is always put in the tragic sense that the water will never be used again... ever.  So, I will address this issue again.

Common misconception:
If something goes wrong at my neighbor's natural gas well pad, my well water and drinking water aquifer will be destroyed forever! I have seen those homes with big water tanks in PA and I do not want a water buffalo in my yard.

Having your drinking water well contaminated to by all means not a good thing; especially if you did not buy into the whole “natural gas development” saga. The water tanks or water buffalos as they are commonly referred to, offer a temporary water supply while solutions to restoring the drinking water supply are sought. Water buffalos are viewed as unwelcome eyesore and are not good for property values but they are also temporary. It turns out that people do not know that there is technology and processes by which groundwater can be cleaned. 
Other ways that drinking water can be returned to portability include the installation of water filtration systems at the well head to can clean up a family’s water supply. Or a home can be tied into a municipal water supply (if feasible).

But who wants to drink filtered water, our water was pristine to start with. Really? Drinking water quality of water wells in our region show such variability, with at least ¼ of the drinking water wells tested in the County containing detectable levels of natural occurring Methane.  Some wells contain detectable levels of natural occurring arsenic! Most people do not really know what is in the water they are drinking.

Where do all the contaminants that were in the water go?
Contaminants are removed in a process referred to as “natural attenuation” Natural attenuation can be biological (natural bacteria, plants and animals in the soil break the chemicals down to simpler forms), could be a physical action (dispersion, dissolution, advection, volatilization etc.) or a chemical process that occurs that eventually leads to a decline in the contaminants concentration.
While understanding what may happen in a potential situation, it is also good to know what is being done to protect water from being contaminated in the first place. After all, prevention is always better than cure. (Chapter 7 of the NYSDEC sGEIS)

I am attaching an excerpt from a press release from the EPA that talks about cleaning up contaminated ground water in Broome County.

EPA Proposes Plan to Remove Contaminated Soil from
Tri-Cities Barrel Superfund Site in Broome County, N.Y.
EPA to Hold Public Meeting on August 16 to Discuss Plan

Contacts: John Senn, (212) 637-3667, or Kasia Broussalian, (212) 637-3581,

(New York, N.Y. – Aug. 4, 2011) The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has proposed an amended plan to clean up ground water at the Tri-Cities Barrel Superfund Site in Fenton, N.Y. using a variety of natural processes known as “monitored natural attenuation.” The ground water is contaminated with polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), volatile organic compounds, pesticides and metals, which can cause serious damage to people’s health and the environment. The original cleanup plan, selected by EPA in 2000, called for the extraction and treatment of the contaminated ground water. Data collected since the original cleanup approach was selected indicate that natural processes are working to clean up the site. EPA will oversee the periodic collection and analysis of ground water samples to verify that the level and extent of contaminants are declining and that people’s health and the environment are protected.

The public is encouraged to comment on EPA’s proposed plan until August 30, 2011. On August 16, EPA will hold a public meeting to discuss the plan at 7:00 p.m. at the Town of Fenton Town Hall at 44 Park Street in Port Cane, N.Y. The proposed plan is available on EPA’s website at, Fenton Town Hall and EPA’s New York City office at 290 Broadway, 18th floor, New York, N.Y.

The Tri-Cities Barrel Superfund site is a 14.9-acre former barrel and drum reclamation facility. During the reconditioning process, the interior and exterior of the drums and barrels were cleaned and reconditioned using a variety of chemicals. Between 1960 and 1980, liquid waste from the process was discharged into a series of unlined lagoons on the site. EPA removed over 350 drums, as well as all containers, tanks, process equipment and buildings from the site. All of the equipment that was used while the drum reconditioning business was still in operation was decontaminated, all structures located on-site were demolished, and the debris was disposed of off-site.

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