EPA releases third set of Dimock water results

BY LAURA LEGERE

Times-Shamrock Writer

Federal environmental regulators said Friday that 16 new water test results from Dimock Twp. give them no reason to take “further action” after a resident with hazardous levels of arsenic in a water well declined their offer of replacement water.

Test results posted online by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency show arsenic, a carcinogen, in one water well at nine times the safe drinking water limit. The agency did not indicate the source of the contaminant.

EPA spokeswoman Terri White said Friday that the agency considers the arsenic levels a health concern and plans to take additional samples at the home’s well.

“We have visited the resident several times and explained the data results,” she said. “The resident has chosen to decline our offer to provide alternate water.”

With the third set of results released Friday, the EPA has published data from 47 of the 61 water wells it sampled in January and February as part of an investigation into the potential impact of nearby natural gas drilling on water supplies in theSusquehannaCountytown.

With each round of samples, the agency has said the results have given it no cause for either “immediate” or “further” action. In statements accompanying the first 31 results, it said the sampled water did not pose a health concern.

According to test results posted online by the EPA on Friday, the arsenic levels from one well were above 90 micrograms per liter – nine times the federal limit for public water supplies of 10 micrograms per liter – in both a raw water sample and one taken at a kitchen tap in the residence.

In a January memo outlining the agency’s justification for investigating water quality in Dimock, the EPA described arsenic as a “naturally occurring element widely distributed in the Earth’s crust” that “may also be present at elevated concentrations in the groundwater due to the use and effects of drilling fluids.”

Elevated – but much lower – arsenic levels detected during earlier rounds of sampling in Dimock also spurred the EPA to take additional samples at select homes.

Five of the 16 water samples released Friday had methane levels above the state’s reportable threshold but none reached the point when the gas begins to escape the water under normal atmospheric pressure.

State officials determined in 2009 that faulty gas wells drilled by Cabot Oil and Gas Corp. allowed methane to seep into 18 Dimock water supplies, but the EPA began its own sampling in January after the agency’s review of past test results raised concerns about additional contamination.

Cabot considers the methane in Dimock water supplies to be a natural phenomenon unrelated to its operations.

In a statement Friday, Cabot spokesman George Stark said the new data “confirms the two earlier EPA findings that levels of contaminants found do not (pose) a threat to human health and the environment.”

He said the agency “did not indicate that those contaminants that were detected bore any relationship to oil and gas development in the Dimock area.”

An EPA spokesman said the agency has not done a detailed review of the cause of any contaminants found in the water. It is focused first on evaluating drinking water quality and will later review the complete data for “trends or patterns.”

Water Defense, an environmental group, said Friday that the EPA’s statements about its Dimock water tests are “spin, not science.”

“EPA’s own tests have already vindicated the long-standing allegations of water contamination,” Water Defense Executive Director Claire Sandberg said. “The affected families want the truth, not more smoke and mirrors: why is Region 3 implying that water full of toxic chemicals and methane poses no health threat?”