News Feature | June 7, 2018

Study Links Wastewater On Roads To Water Pollution

Sara Jerome

By Sara Jerome,

A new research study links the use of oil and gas wastewater to the spread of air and water pollution.

Currently, 13 states allow the use of oil and gas wastewater to suppress dust on unpaved roads or to deice in cold weather, Science Ticker reported. The practice is common in rural communities with small budgets for road maintenance.

But a new study in the journal Environmental Science and Technology suggests that may not be advisable.

“When recycled and spread on roads, the wastewater can leak its contaminants, including salt, radioactive elements and chemicals that interfere with hormones, into groundwater and surface water,” Science Ticker reported, citing the journal article.

The study found that the amount of radium leached from road wastewater, as compared to radium discharged from wastewater plants, was four times higher between 2008 and 2014, Science Ticker reported. It was 200 times higher than the amount of radium leached during wastewater spills.

High radium levels have been linked to health issues, including bone cancer, WFYI reported.

“What to do with brine from fracking and oil and gas production has been a subject of concern for regulators since the gas boom began a decade ago. The water contains metals and salts from the formations where oil and gas deposits lay, as well as fracking chemicals. In 2011, Pennsylvania asked treatment plants not to handle waste water from the Marcellus shale, or unconventional gas industry. And in 2016, the EPA banned the process,” the NPR StateImpact reported.

Industrial wastewater treatment plants and underground injection wells are two ways this wastewater is currently treated, the report said.

Nathaniel Warner, one of the researchers, described the potential next steps for this line of research.

"We would like to do experiments to test how effective the wastewaters are at suppressing dust in comparison to other commercial products," said. "If the salts in the wastewaters are just as effective, then new regulations or additional treatment prior to spreading could help reduce the concentration of other contaminants of concern that exist in wastewaters, but not in commercial products."