Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Niagara Falls Plans to Treat Wastewater from Shale-Gas Drilling

A Public Meeting will be held on Thursday, September 22

In July, the Niagara Falls Water Board was reported to be exploring the possibility of treating wastewater containing toxic chemicals resulting from unconventional shale-gas drilling, known as horizontal, hydraulic fracturing or simply fracking. Water from the treatment plant would be released into the Niagara River which flows into Lake Ontario and provides a source of drinking water. A new report issued last week indicated that an outside firm has completed a feasibility study and that the Water Board is moving forward with the plan to treat fracking wastewater.

The Buffalo Avenue treatment plant was built over 30 years ago to clean up wastewater from chemical industries in the city of Niagara Falls and it benefited the region by generated millions of dollars income annually. The Executive Director of the Water Board, Paul Drof, said "Until the state finalizes their guidelines on the treatment of fracking waste, we can't say for sure even if we can do it." He added, "Frankly, we have a responsibility to our rate payers to at least look at this as a possibility."

However, Walter Hang, Ph.D., an expert in wastewater management and head of Toxics Targeting Inc., has studied the Niagara Falls plant and believes that it can not handle fracking wastewater. Hang said "The wastewaters generated by the chemical manufacturing facilities in Niagara Falls are vastly different from the gas-drilling wastewater that could be generated by horizontal hydrofracking in the Marcellus Shale."

Dr. Hang does not stand alone in his criticism of the concept. Over fifty scientists signed a letter warning NY Gov. Cuomo that it would be impossible for municipal systems to practically protect against chemicals used in fracking and others in the wastewater. The scientists indicated that municipal systems were not designed to filter the toxic chemicals, biocides and radioactive compounds, and that some of these would pass through the systems and enter water supplies.

Local environmentalists expressed concern about the Niagara Falls plan. Rita Yelda, organizer of WNY Drilling Defense, said "If this fracking waste is not treated correctly, it could contaminate our water. It's a potential risk."  Brian Smith, with the Citizens Campaign for the Environment, said "The Niagara Falls sewage treatment facility is ill equipped to properly treat hazardous fracking waste. Allowing this would risk the discharge of toxic, radioactive, and caustic waste into our fragile Great Lakes ecosystem."

The Niagara Falls Water Board will hold a public meeting on Thursday, September 22 at 5pm in the Water Treatment Plant, 5815 Buffalo Ave, Niagara Falls, NY [MAP]. Concerned citizens are encouraged to attend. Those who wish to speak should sign up before the meeting.

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