White: DEP not using best test for water contamination

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State Rep. Jesse White is again faulting the state Department of Environmental Protection for incomplete water quality testing after learning the agency does not use a test that would identify the presence of 22 additional contaminants.


White, D-Cecil, learned this week the DEP never used a test that identifies 45 substances when testing for possible water contamination associated with natural gas drilling into the Marcellus Shale.


The test is known as Marcellus Inorganic Survey or Suite Code 944.


“You’d think (the DEP) would have at least mentioned it existed. It’s pure craziness,” White said.


A Right to Know request made by the Beaver County Times revealed that this stringent test has not been used even though it was developed in 2009.


Instead, the agency uses suite codes 942 and 946, which identify 8 contaminants and 16 contaminants, respectively.


Kevin Sunday, a DEP spokesman, said those codes look at chemicals most critical in making a determination if water is contaminated.


The biggest markers in drilling fluid and flowback water are alkalinity, calcium, magnesium, potassium, chloride, barium and strontium, he said, and Suite Code 946 tests for all of those.


He equated it to a person’s physician ordering a blood test for specific markers.


The agency first used Suite Code 942 with additional parameters added in 2010 to Suite Code 946.


Sunday said Suite Code 944 had been “retired.”


“It’s not the best tool we have,” he said.


White wonders if a DEP official had instructed field inspectors not to use Suite Code 944. Should a test reveal that someone has a specific chemical in their drinking water, they should be told no matter where it originated, he said.


“Why should it matter where it came from? Why in the world would we choose not to tell them that?” he asked.


White has introduced House Bill 268, which would require the DEP to provide all data at no cost to any property owner whose water has been tested.


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