Water Defense Cries Foul on EPA Statement

Statement from Claire Sandberg, Executive Director of Water Defense:

“In the middle of an investigation into water contamination caused by natural gas drilling, with only partial results from less than 20 percent of households under investigation, the EPA's Region 3 office issued a press release last night implying that Dimock, PA's water has been given a clean bill of health. In the same statement to the press, Region 3 admitted that several families have arsenic and methane in their water. These facts immediately call EPA Region 3’s neutrality into question, as there is no established standard for methane content in drinking water.

Despite these glaring factual inconsistencies between EPA’s characterization of the results and what the testing actually found, news headlines are already proclaiming that the water in Dimock is safe. We are deeply troubled by Region 3’s rush to judge the science before testing is even complete, and by their apparent disregard for established standards of drinking water safety. We call on EPA Region 3 Administrator Shawn Garvin to immediately release the agency’s test results publicly, so that independent scientists, the public, and the Dimock residents themselves can evaluate the results. We also would like answers to the following questions:

-Why is EPA Region 3’s handling of the Dimock case so different from the way other EPA regional offices handled similar cases in Texas and Wyoming? When similar contamination was reported in Pavillion, WY EPA Region 8 refused to release any results until full testing was after a year’s worth of testing was complete. When EPA finally released results showing that the gas industry had poisoned Pavillion's water, the EPA let the results speak for themselves instead of editorializing. Why did the agency issue an opinion on safety in this instance, rather than just releasing the data?

-In Texas, EPA Region 6 ordered Range Resources to provide replacement water to families because their water was contaminated with explosive levels of methane, which posed “imminent endangerment to the health of persons using those private drinking wells.” In contrast, EPA Region 3 acknowledges that the Dimock residents’ water contains high levels of methane, but says the methane is not a health or safety problem. What accounts for this difference?

-How is EPA establishing a standard of safety, for both methane and for chemicals present in the water? As we have already noted above, there is no established safe limit for methane in drinking water. Additionally, previous testing of Dimock water has found high levels of contaminants for which safe levels have not yet been established by EPA or DEP, but which are known to present possible health risks, including: naphthalene, phenanthrene, butyl benzyl phthalate, 1-methylnaphthalene, 2-methylnaphthalene, diethylene glycol, triethylene glycol, 2-methoxyethanol, Bis (2-Ethylhexyl) adipate, Bis (2-Ethylhexyl) phthalate, methylene blue active substances, gas range organics, acetone and ammonia. Although not presently regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency or the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection and thus no MCLs exists, these chemicals are not safe for ingestion, in either the short or long term.

In light of these serious unanswered questions, it is hard not to conclude that EPA Region 3 is putting political expedience before the science and Dimock residents’ health. We hope that is not the case, and call on Region 3 Administrator Shawn Garvin to immediately release all available testing results, and affirm his commitment to a transparent and unbiased investigation.”