‘Toxic’ water from fracking and fracking-related wastewater is polluting Missouri, federal scientists warn

  • October 13, 2021

The presence of fracking wastewater in Missouri has caused serious health and environmental problems, according to a joint US Geological Survey-NASA study released today.

“Fracking wastewater from the Bakken and Eagle Ford Shale regions of North and South Dakota has polluted drinking water supplies, polluted soil, and polluted lakes, rivers and groundwater, which are critical for drinking water quality,” said the study by USGS geologists Matthew Molloy and Christopher J. Anderson.

“These water and wastewater contaminants are causing health and ecological problems, and are contributing to the rise in asthma rates.”

The USGS study said the presence of shale gas in the Missouri region had been “associated with the contamination of surface waters, soil, groundwater, and water bodies, and surface and subsurface air quality”.

“Water from the wastewater injection wells has been associated with the increased formation of sediment, oil, and other contaminants in the rivers and streams of the Missouri basin,” the study said.

“These contaminants are affecting aquatic life in Missouri, causing significant economic impacts on the Missouri River and Lake, and contributing to air quality concerns in the region.”

Dr Anderson and his team analysed air samples collected at a site in the Kansas City metropolitan area and found the concentrations of benzene, methane, nitrate and arsenic in the air were higher than in nearby counties.

“Benzene and methane levels were nearly 10 times higher in the surrounding communities,” Dr Anderson said.

“There is an urgent need for action to mitigate the health impacts of these contaminants.”

He said benzene levels in the nearby Kansas City area had already increased significantly in recent years.

“This is particularly concerning as benzene has been linked to asthma and respiratory diseases such as COPD and emphysema,” Dr. Anderson said in a statement.

“Although benzene concentrations are low in the general population, it has been shown that this chemical is absorbed by many of our cells.

It can even affect our immune system.”

The study’s lead author, Dr. Matthew Mottram, said it was the first time benzene had been found in a sample from the same site.

“The benzene was found in the sediments from a gas well site and was clearly associated with water and air pollution,” Dr Mottrop said.

The authors also found that groundwater from the well site contained elevated levels of arsenic.

“Our findings suggest that this groundwater may have a long-term impact on groundwater quality in the area,” Dr J Anderson said, adding that it was too early to tell if the increased arsenic levels could lead to further damage to groundwater and surface water.

Dr Anderson said it would take more than 10 years for the study to fully understand the health impact of the increased levels of benzenes found in Missouri’s surface water, and the health effects of elevated arsenic levels in water.

“We will need to see more groundwater studies to really understand the extent of the problem,” Dr Raffaella Pascale, a geologist with the USGS Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), said in an email.

“But this is a real concern and it’s been very clear over the last few years that the benzene problem is widespread and it needs to be addressed,” Dr Pascales said.

A spokesperson for the Missouri Department of Environmental Quality (MDDEP) said the state had issued an alert to residents and businesses warning of increased benzene in the water supply.”MDDEP has been in contact with several businesses that have reported elevated benzene emissions in their water supplies,” the spokesperson said.

Ms Pascalk said MDDEP would review the study’s findings and respond in due course.

“Any potential impacts of the benzenes will be considered by MDDEP to determine how they might impact public health,” she said.

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