January 7th, 2011
By: Jonathan Benson
Drilling for natural gas has become a hot new industry. But in Pennsylvania, the practice is literally destroying the environment. Unlike other states, Pennsylvania allows the natural gas industry to dump its partially-treated waste into rivers and streams that are used for drinking water, even though the toxic sludge is heavily polluted with salt and dangerous heavy metals. And a recent Associated Press report indicates that the few safeguards that do exist often do not even work.
The report found that more than a fifth of the waste, or 1.28 million barrels, dumped by the industry every year goes unaccounted for because of poor reporting protocols. Some polluters routinely dump far more toxins than are legally permitted, which end up making their way into drinking water. Even protections for the Delaware River, which provides water for 15 million people, have been openly violated in the past as companies dumped their waste freely without penalty.
The natural gas industry is destroying the water of not only Pennsylvania, but also every other state into which its waterways flow. And little is being done to stop it, other than a cursory investigation by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the federal agency with a long track record of cozying up to industry and ignoring flagrant violators of pollution laws.
“This is an outrage,” said Tracy Carluccio, deputy director of the Delaware Riverkeeper Network, to reporters. “This is indicative of the lack of adequate oversight.”
Representatives from the natural gas industry insist that their waste is not harming the environment because the waterways effectively dilute it. And others in the industry say they have worked hard to implement reuse technologies that ensure that most or all of their waste is recycled or properly handled to ensure environmental protection.
But there are still millions of barrels of waste water being dumped into waterways that need to be properly mitigated. And while Pennsylvania recently beefed up regulation for all new treatment plants that dump into rivers, existing ones are still subject to the old rules which, according to some, play out more like an “anything goes” scenario.
December 8th, 2010
By: Ethan A. Huff
A Virginia Tech researcher and her colleagues recently discovered that the vast majority of common antibiotic drugs end up passing through the body without breaking down and metabolizing. In fact, up to 90 percent of most antibiotics are not absorbed by the body, and end up being discharged into the natural environment where they cause antibiotic resistance genes and “superbugs” to emerge.
According to the report, excreted antibiotics regularly pollute rivers, streams, and lakes because even filtered waste water discharged from treatment plants contains them. Like other pharmaceuticals, antibiotics are able to make their way through sewage processing systems where they eventually get dumped into the environment.
“The presence of antibiotics, even at sub-inhibitory concentrations, can stimulate bacterial metabolism and thus contribute to the selection and maintenance of antibiotic resistance genes,” explains Amy Pruden, assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering at Virginia Tech, and author of the study. “Once they are present in rivers, antibiotic resistance genes are capable of being transferred among bacteria, including pathogens, through horizontal gene transfer.”
Antibiotic-resistant bacteria have become highly problematic in part due to the overuse of antibiotics. Bacteria basically learn to adapt and become immune to antibiotic drugs, requiring ever-stronger ones to keep them at bay. But drug companies are running out of options because they simply can no longer contain the onslaught of out-of-control bacteria.
“[N]ew drug discovery can no longer keep pace with emerging antibiotic-resistant infections,” wrote Pruden in her paper, illustrating the need for a different approach. Unless the medical industry and the public drastically cut their use of antibiotics, there is no telling what the ultimate consequences will be.