Freaked About Frack Waste on AquaPA’s “Main Division”

People used to say, “What’s Fracking?” when they saw the bumper sticker on my car. Now they want to know what they can do to keep their tap water, and their family, safe.
   Water awareness is assuredly growing as water area consumers (a.k.a. humans) begin to question Lower Merion Township’s water source and origin, and its treatment before it issues from our taps. Even those with households on well water are curious to know how PA’s Industrial Gas Boom, and the accompanying toxic wastewater disposal problem, is impacting their water quality.

Interestingly, Pennsylvania has the highest number of private water wells in the United States. Montgomery and neighboring counties, because of the concentration of population, have the highest number of households on private water wells in the state, and therefore in the nation. Even AquaPennsylvania, our water company, draws water from wells. Depending on the neighborhood, water wells are tapped into either the Schuylkill River or the Crum-Darby Creek Water Table. Both are Sub-Watersheds of the Delaware River. The Delaware River System is the longest in the Eastern US, and it flows from New York to the Delaware Bay. It includes the Schuylkill River, its tributaries and streams. For very good reason, large portions of the Upper Delaware River have been designated “Special Protection Waters” and lengths of the Schuylkill River are designated Heritage sites. Our river is pristine, bountiful and precious.

Elementally, the same geological “miracle” which gives our watershed region abundant natural gas – deep, mineral-rich shale – gives us lovely, healthful, sweet water. Drillers call it “Slick Water” because it works so well. Environmentalists and Wall Street analysts think of it as “Blue Gold,” but for entirely different reasons.
Like many, I was under the impression that our municipal water would be some of the finest in the world, and not just because Aqua America Chairman, President & CEO Nick DiBenedictis, Secretary of the PA DEP, Michael Krancer and Delaware Riverkeeper, Maya van Rossum, live in this area, too.

Montgomery, Delaware and Chester counties are part of the Aqua “Main Division,” and Aqua is one of the fastest growing water utilities of all time. Longtime residents may recall the quiet, almost quaint Suburban Water Company of yore. In 1992, the company came under the steady new leadership of DiBenedictus, a civic leader, former Exelon top brass and current Board Member who has since served twice in Cabinet Secretary posts in Pennsylvania. A new name adorned the spiffy Bryn Mawr headquarters, and since then its size, scope and technologies have grown exponentially. Exelon, the electric power giant, is Aqua’s biggest customer. Even the flagging economy has not seemed to put a hitch in the utility’s stride. With core business operations in Pennsylvania and Texas, Aqua America, Inc. “provides water and wastewater services to approximately 3 million people in 13 states and continues to grow its operations through acquisitions.” [SOURCE:]

According to Aqua’s 2009 Main Division Water Quality Report, “Main Division” water is pulled from “rivers, lakes, streams, ponds, reservoirs springs, and wells. Contaminants that may be present in source water include: Microbial Contaminants… Inorganic contaminants such as salts and metals… Pesticides and Herbicides… Organic Chemical Compounds, including synthetic and volatile organic compounds… RADIOACTIVE CONTAMINANTS, which can be naturally occurring (radon) or the result of oil and gas production and mining activities. Source water assessments were completed in 2002 and 2003 for the Chester, Ridley, Crum, Pickering, Perkiomen, and Neshaminy creeks, the Schuylkill River, and wells in the Main Division.”

The Perkiomen River is out past the mall. The Schuylkill runs alongside our township and, in some places, literally flows downwards, into the water table deep beneath our feet. You can visit the Flat Rock Dam in Gladwyne, which was sold by the PA Department of Environmental Protection’s Abandoned Mine Division to Exelon Energy in 2007. It has seen extensive improvements in recent years, including the American Shad spawning run in 2008. It is not used for drinking water. The next dam upriver is the Plymouth Dam, and PA DEP owns that one still. According to the PA Fish and Boat Commission, it is slated for removal. The next dam up-river is the Norristown Dam, which is owned by Montgomery County Parks Department, and it received a fish run – and a fish elevator – in 2008. Both Fish Run Projects are sponsored by Exelon Corporation, as part of its “Exelon Generation” environmental project initiatives to protect threatened species.

In 2009 and part of 2010, energy company Cabot Oil & Gas trucked more than 44,000 barrels of [gas] well wastewater to a treatment facility in Hatfield Township, a Philadelphia suburb. Those liquids were then discharged through the town sewage plant into the Neshaminy Creek in Chalfont, which winds through Bucks and Montgomery counties on its way to the Delaware River. SOURCE: Associated Press, January 4, 2011

Frack wastewater is not only loaded with toxins and carcinogens, it’s RADIOACTIVE. It should not go into an aged sewage treatment facility which is unequipped to process it. According to the Public Summary on Aqua’s recent purchase of this facility, “Water withdrawn from the Neshaminy Creek is coagulated, settled, filtered, and disinfected with chlorine prior to distribution to customers.” SOURCE:

Nearby residents received water quality updates, but they were not warned of the pollution danger. In October, 2010, Aqua unveiled a $20 million public works overhaul project at its Pickering Treatment Facility, and in January 2011, DiBenedictis announced that the newly acquired Neshaminy Creek Facility will get the same. This is good news for Main Division water costumers, but we still want to know, what chemicals and compounds – exactly – passed through the Neshaminy Facility? Cabot Oil & Gas ought to be compelled to make this information public, since they are the only entity who knows what proprietary chemicals were injected into the wells in the first place.

I Google “Water Test Service” as fast as I can.

There’s nothing democratic about having your tap water tested! The kit, which was supplied by UL, an Insurance Agencies of America approved lab in Michigan, cost a staggering $601, though expedited shipping is included. Yikes. We bit the bullet. We really want to know what’s in our tap water, even though we kind of don’t. Interpreting the results will come later… Our kit arrived right on schedule, a box within a box, and inside it a cooler. It looks very scientific. My husband and son will take the official water sample. We’ll posted the test results next week.

The World’s Greatest Water Filter
I’ve yet to find an under-sink filter, or even a whole house unit, that will effectively remove radiation. Reverse Osmosis filters are the most effective at filtering carcinogenic compounds like benzene, but they are fairly slow and expensive. A Charcoal Carbon filter seems like a very good choice for now, and because it mimics the properties of natural rock filtration, it does a good job eliminating heavy metals. It is key to remember to change the filters on schedule or you are at risk for your own household “flowback” issues. Carbon filters can be installed on your entire house or at individual taps. Carafe, sink, bathtub and shower models are widely available; Brita is but one example. I predict Fiji sales will soon soar.


Nicholas DiBenedictis
, Profile
Chairman, President and CEO, Nicholas DiBenedictis was a Senior Vice President of Corporate and Public Affairs for PECO Energy, a subsidiary of Exelon (1989-1992), the nation’s largest electric utility, before he was tapped for leadership of Aqua. He also served in two cabinet positions in Pennsylvania government: Secretary of the Department of Environmental Resources (1983-1986) and Director of the Office of Economic Development (1981-1983). 

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