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Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Ohio River Is Increasingly Contaminated By Bromides: Cincinnati Monitoring Agency Sees 'High Concentrations' In Water Samples

Ohio River Hit With Bromide Increase
CINCINNATI (TDB) -- Up to five times as much bromide is showing up in the river than in the past.  The spike is causing deep concern that drinking water supplies for millions who depend on the Ohio River -- including about 900,000 in the Cincinnati area -- will be damaged by a toxic chemical that forms when bromide-containing water is disinfected.  Puzzled officials have ordered research and haven't pinpointed a cause -- although many suspect the natural gas drilling industry is responsible. Bromides are  from seawater, and that is where the gas deposits exist, deep underground where the gas wells tap ancient seabeds under modern Ohio.  Bromide is a chemical salt that forms substances called trihalomethanes when raw water is chlorinated and treated by a a drinking water plant like the Cincinnati Water Works.  Documents from ORSANCO, a multi-state agency in Cincinnati that monitors water quality in the Ohio River, show bromide levels have soared, which is spooking officials.  Earlier this year, the agency was told:  "Bromide levels in the River are increasing, with some recent high concentrations four to five times higher than the levels found several years ago.  Bromide levels have put several utilities close to exceeding EPA's disinfection criteria."  In June, ORSANCO ordered, "Research should continue with an emphasis on bromide."  No source of the bromide spike is identified, but the rise in Ohio River levels appears to coincide with a boom in natural gas drilling that began in 2008.

Cincinnati's drinking water remains safe, although the highest level of trihalomethanes detected was in 2010, according to reports compiled under the Safe Drinking Water Act.  The 2011 data is not complete because the year hasn't ended.  The reports are available on the city's website.
 Interestingly, the reports indicate that water from the Great Miami Aquifer, which goes to about 12% of the Water Works 1.1 million customers, has lower levels of trihalomethanes after being disinfected and chlorinated. Trihalomethane is a carcinogen that has been linked to increased risk of bladder cancer.  The ORSANCO meeting minutes about soaring Ohio River bromides can be accessed on the commission's website.  The Daily Bellwether has this excerpt from February:
"Report of the Water Users Advisory Committee (WUAC)

Mr. Jack Wang, Committee Chairman, began his report by thanking the Commission for the organizing the previous day’s roundtable discussion on safe drinking water. The session provided a focus on a core mission of the Commission which is to provide safe drinking water for the Basin.

Mr. Wang reported that the Committee raised concerns regarding increased levels of bromide in the River in October. Since then, the Committee has been active in collecting and reviewing bromide and related disinfection by-product information. The Committee met on February 8-9, discussed the data collected, and found that:
1. Bromide levels in the River are increasing, with some recent high concentrations four to five times higher than the level found several years ago.
2. Bromide levels have put several utilities close to exceeding EPA’s disinfection criteria.

As a result, the Committee requests that the Commission:
1. Conduct a detailed study on the sources of bromide. The Committee suggests that by adding bromide monitoring, the study can be done on discharge permit requirements.
2. Include bromide in the upcoming Pollution Control Standards review and consider development of standards for bromide. The Committee would like to assist in the standards development. By June, the Committee should have additional technical information to present to the Commission.

To assist with bromide monitoring, the Committee also recommends that ORSANCO include an IC instrument in its Organics Detection System upgrade.

The Committee discussed the need to better understand the manganese issue and will draw on some expertise to study the link between manganese and mining activity. He also mentioned the need for research on chromium+6 and the utilities’ approach to respond to public concern.
ACTION:Motion by Commissioner Duritsa"

The issue came up again in June:

"Report of the Research Committee
Commissioner Servatius reported that the Committee met on June 1-2 for a regular meeting and a 
joint meeting with the Water Users Advisory Committee. 
Staff and Committee members presented a number of presentations on past, current, proposed, 
and possible future research projects. 
As a result of these presentations and discussions, the Committee concluded that: 
1. The current research has been well thought-out and is being professionally conducted. 
2. The proposed studies all have merit. 
3. The proposed River Users Program TDS study should be expanded to include pH, 
manganese, and conductivity. 
4. Research should continue with an emphasis on bromide. 
5. ORSANCO must continue to explore research efforts on a watershed-scale to gain better 
understanding of the impacts of tributaries on the mainstem of the Ohio River." 

There has been concern upstream in Pennsylvania that gas drillers have been dumping brine in wastewater plants that can't scrub out the bromides, which are discharged into the Ohio River and its tributaries.  The boom in Marcellus Shale exploration upriver from Cincinnati is getting blamed for the soaring bromide levels in recent news reports from Pittsburgh area media.  Nobody seems to be asking much locally.

1 comment:

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