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High levels of lead — the same heavy metal that infamously contaminated water in Flint, Michigan — as well as the radioactive element radium, were discovered near spill sites. One substance, selenium, was found in the state's waters at levels as high as 35 times the federal thresholds set to protect fish, mussels, and other wildlife, including those that people eat. The pollution was found on land as well as in water. The soils in locations where wastewater spilled were laced with significant levels of radium, and even higher levels of radium were discovered in the ground downstream from the spills' origin points, showing that radioactive materials were soaking into the ground and building up as spills flowed over the ground, the researchers said.
n 2012, the Federal Emergency Management Agency's Hazard Mitigation Grant Program — a program designed to help people move away from areas subject to recurring floods — ran into a series of conflicts over oil and gas leases on properties that would otherwise be offered buy-outs. Some homeowners in Pennsylvania were denied the chance to participate in the program because of oil and gas leases or pipelines on their properties, as DeSmog previously reported.
“Many smaller spills have also occurred on tribal lands,” Prof. Vengosh said, “and as far as we know, no one is monitoring them.”
Some rivers and streams in North Dakota now carry levels of radioactive and toxic materials higher than federal drinking water standards as a result of wastewater spills, the scientists found after testing near spills
Environmental Implications of Brine Spills. In addition
to elevated levels of salts, the Bakken brines contain elevated
levels of trace elements and other toxic contaminants such as
Ba (up to 9 mg/L), NH4 (2,500 mg/L), Pb (3480 μg/L), Tl
(231 μg/L), Cd (31 μg/L), Se (970 μg/L), Cu (365 μg/L), Ni
(833 μg/L), V (1020 μg/L), and Mn (16 mg/L). Spill waters
and surface waters impacted by spills identified in this study
were found to have trace metal concentrations often 1 to 2
orders of magnitude greater than average concentrations in
background surface waters (Table 2 and Figure 2). Additionally,
these levels exceeded national ecological and drinking
water regulations for multiple elements in some spill sites.