Filtering frack-edly polluted water
August 5, 2014 7:09 AM   Subscribe

My spouse and I have recently moved to Western Pennsylvania and are really concerned about the pollution to the local drinking water due to fracking (hydraulic fracturing). What are the best ways to filter this water for consumption? What are other health concerns to watch out for (and ways to solve for these)?

We'll be renting, so a full-home filtration system which requires installation will likely not be possible. Previously, my spouse's parents bought us a filtering pitcher (like a Brita) that claims to filter fluoride from the water - would something like this help remove methane or other harmful chemicals?

Are there things that we could put on the tap to filter the water instead of having to refill a pitcher multiple times a day? How concerned should we be about bathing/showering? What other things are we risking (breathing, other food consumption) and how can we protect ourselves?

Also, are there symptoms to watch out for when drinking polluted water?
posted by taltalim to Health & Fitness (7 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
You can install an under-sink filter with a filtered water tap for the kitchen sink. It's way more convenient (and less expensive in the long run) to be able to just run filtered water out of a tap compared to using a pitcher.

I have purchased a two-stage ceramic sediment/GAC filter from these guys, and was very happy with the product.
posted by slkinsey at 7:25 AM on August 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

Where is your water actually coming from? If it is coming from surface water, I would be much less concerned than if it's coming from an on-site well.

So figure that out first. If you have municipal water (and you probably do), call up your utility provider and ask for the drinking water quality report, which will give you sampling information plus the source of your drinking water. They will also generally be happy to talk to you about any water quality concerns.

If you have a well at your property, call the local Health Department or PADEP and ask to speak to someone about a drinking water well -- they may have programs for sampling well water. (However, I'm guessing your drinking water is from a municipal source.)
posted by pie ninja at 7:29 AM on August 5, 2014

I myself am no fan of fracking and I share your concerns, first of all. That said, unless you're living off of well water in Washington or Greene Counties and can light your tap water on fire, your situation is not going to be that dire just yet. I mean, the Mon is a drinking water source for 300,000+ people and no one has dropped dead from drinking it yet. Public water supplies are heavily regulated and the minute the DEP and/or EPA and/or USACE are made aware of a toxic-level release that would impact public drinking water, the public would be alerted to stop consuming it until further notice.

Who is your source of water, first of all? We can't provide any further details without knowing where your water comes from.

Whole-home filtration might be out of the realm of possibility due to renting, but you can get reverse-osmosis filtering systems that go under your sink for a few hundred dollars. (I haven't looked into this recently.)

The whole issue of trace fracking chemicals in public water supplies is still in contention at this point; since they are considered proprietary work product, drilling companies are not legally required to disclose them. (Note: this is from when I last worked in the industry approx. 1.5 years ago.) I'll try to dig up some links for you and post a follow-up here in a little bit.

(Disclaimer: I used to work in civil & environmental consulting.)
posted by cardinality at 7:31 AM on August 5, 2014

Start by poking around the PA DEP's bureau of safe drinking water:

There are a ton of different possible water contaminants and the signs and symptoms of exposure to them vary.
posted by entropone at 8:05 AM on August 5, 2014

Here's some links to get you started. Not sure how in-depth you'd want to go with this in terms of a personal research project, but the more you know, the better, right?

PA Code Water Quality Standards

PA DEP Bureau of Safe Drinking Water - lists information on how to access the DEP's drinking water reporting system + annual compliance reports.

Pittsburgh Water & Sewer Authority 2013 Water Quality Report

Impacts of Shale Gas Wastewater Disposal on Water Quality in Western Pennsylvania (Journal of Environmental Science & Technology)

Post-Gazette PowerSource blog: "DEP: Oil and gas operations damaged water supplies 209 times since end of ’07"

Some good information from 2012 via a local green blogger about filtration options, and he mentioned that you can request a home water test from your water supplier.

I tried to do a bit more digging re: Pittsburgh public water sources and fracking contamination, but most of the recent coverage is all related to the Duke study in the EST journal that I linked. If this is an ongoing interest for you, the PA Environmental Digest is more industry-focused and has extended coverage, and it's a weekly digest format. I read this religiously.

There's a lot of grassroots work going on in this area in terms of public health and environmental monitoring. PM me if you have any more questions or would like some recommendations for groups that are doing monitoring work.
posted by cardinality at 8:12 AM on August 5, 2014

I was eyeing up these Big Berkey water filters for drinking water at my rustic cabin. They have the option of secondary filters that get out fluoride.
posted by jillithd at 8:22 AM on August 5, 2014

You can ship your water off to a lab and have it tested. Might give you some peace of mind. Cost us about $100 when we did it. Sorry, I can't remember the name of the company we used.

We live in an area that has funny tasting water. We buy filtered water from the grocery store via fill it yourself vending machines. I've seen these in other areas around the country, you've probably got them too. This water costs about 35c a gallon here. It's just refiltered tap water--if you've got specific concerns about specific contaminants you might want to do a little research before settling on this solution.
posted by mattu at 10:41 AM on August 5, 2014

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