CMU Study Says Mon Drinking Water High in Bromide

Washington PA Observer Reporter
18 September 2010
By Scott Beveridge, Staff writer

Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University are concerned about higher levels of bromide in the Monongahela River drinking water supply, a chemical that, when treated, turns into a cancer-causing disinfectant.

The findings have prompted the state Department of Environmental Protection to investigate the source of the bromide, which is created at a number of places, including power plants, natural gas drilling sites and coal mines, DEP spokeswoman Katy Gresh said Friday.

"Bromide use is not extensive and I am confident they will be able to find out where it is coming from," said Jeanne VanBriesen, one of the CMU researchers.

The Pittsburgh university began sampling the water in 2008 at seven drinking water intakes along the river, as well as from the supply after it is treated, she said. The water utilities have historically tested for bromide, too.

The bromide levels were fine until July when, for unknown reasons, it began to show up in higher amounts. Bromide, which is in Mountain Dew soda pop, is not harmful until it is treated at water plants with chlorine, and the combination turns into a bromide disinfectant byproduct, VanBriesen said.

If the pattern continues, the bromide levels could rise above the federal standard for drinking water, she said. Brominated water has been shown to cause cancer when consumed in higher levels over a long period of time, she added.

"We are looking at the data we have from those places to figure out how much bromide is being discharged from those facilities," Gresh said.

She said it could take weeks or months for the DEP to determine the source of the problem.

Water treatment plants cannot remove bromide from the supply, VanBriesen said.

Many people have been quick to blame the booming Marcellus Shale natural gas industry for the rise in bromide levels.

Matt Pitzarella, spokesman for Range Resources of Cecil Township - a major player in the industry - said his company does not discharge into the river the water it uses to drill.

Range is able to recycle 90 percent of its water supply, and hauls the remaining 10 percent to purification plants.

"I would be just as interested as the next person to find out where it was coming from," Pitzarella said.

The river is a major source of drinking water in Southwestern Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania American Water is among the larger suppliers, and its treatment plants have been recognized by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for providing excellent water.

The elevated levels of bromide do not represent a health threat, and the company's water continues to meet EPA standards, Pennsylvania America spokeswoman Josephine Posti said.