CMU Study Says Mon Drinking Water High in Bromide
Washington PA Observer
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
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,
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.