Watershed Wednesdays – Week 2

Welcome to Watershed Wednesday #2

December 22, 2021

Each week, the Delaware River Frack Ban Coalition Organizing Committee will focus on a different aspect of the DRBC draft regulations pertaining to the import of wastewater produced by fracking and the export of water from the Delaware River Watershed for fracking outside of the Basin. (email for coalition: DRFrackBan@gmail.com) The public comment period is open now and will close February 28, 2022.

To comment: Go to the DRBC online portal, fill in the form and cut and paste some or all of these suggested points into the template, adding a line about your personal interest in a full ban. Alternatively, you can write your own comment and insert it or attach a document. Personalizing your comment is always the most powerful; it’s best to put the sentences that are in your own words FIRST. Make certain that you review your submission when prompted and click the final button that delivers your comment. You should receive a delivery receipt from DRBC.

Each week, the Watershed Wednesday from the prior week is added to a public google doc. In case you want to comment using a past topic or get references we have provided, you can get access here: https://bit.ly/3siWvcN The materials can be copied and are there for your use. AND remember you can make as many comments as you want!

Go here to submit a comment: https://dockets.drbc.commentinput.com/?id=x2K8A

This week’s comment focuses on an example of a project that was originally planned to discharge to water but after the applicants realized that they would need to receive DRBC docket approval and meet stricter standards, they eliminated the discharge to water. Instead, polluting air emissions would result but because there was no direct discharge, DRBC did not assert their jurisdiction and the agency did not complete a review or comment on the project. This is the circumstance that can occur if the DRBC prohibits the discharge to water or land of fracking wastewater but does not categorically prohibit the import of fracking wastewater – projects could move ahead in the watershed with processing fracking wastewater without DRBC, governed instead only by the state in which they are located. This a disastrous loophole that will result in pollution from fracking if the DRBC adopts these draft regulations without closing this loophole. ALSO all these impacts will have economic ramifications – who wants to live, work, recreate or have a second home in a polluted area. This economic note can be added to any comment.


Elcon Recycling Services, LLC: Thermal oxidation design: This process does not have a discharge to water or land but emits highly toxic emissions to the air when treating hazardous or toxic waste, which would deposit on water, land, soil, and vegetation, spreading pollutants into the airshed and watershed – polluting both our air and water. The thermal oxidation/distillation process produces an oxide sludge by using heat and evaporation. Water-insoluble solids, volatile organic compounds, and the water-soluble salts are separated out in a physical-chemical separation process and the sludge residues removed for disposal. The crystallized salt residues contain large amounts of table salt, but may also contain toxic bromine salts, radioactive strontium and radium compounds, soluble cadmium salts, and compounds of non-metallic elements such as arsenic and selenium. Selenious acid is highly soluble in water and extremely toxic to all types of aquatic creatures and the pollutants emitted pose extreme danger to human health.

The proposed Elcon hazardous waste processing facility was a thermal oxidation design that was going to be located on the Delaware River in Falls Township PA. Technical analysis revealed that approximately 39 tons of air pollution would be emitted, affecting the air quality within a 30-mile radius; the Philadelphia Water Dept. opposed the project due to potential pollution that could impact their water intakes 15 miles downstream.

Wastewater produced by fracking was one of the possible components that would be processed there. The DRBC published a public notice of the application it received from Elcon for this “zero-discharge” processing plant in 2018 but did not rule on the project. The project was stopped in 2020 by emphatic public opposition but thermal oxidation of hazardous materials is a good example of a non-discharge highly polluting process that can escape DRBC’s jurisdiction if frack wastewater is allowed to be imported here.

Suggested Comment:

  • I urge DRBC to ban the importation of wastewater produced by fracking. I fully support and consider the DRBC proposal to not allow the discharge of fracking wastewater to water or land to be a critically needed regulatory action that will offer essential protection. However, there are wastewater-processing systems that, technically, would not discharge to water or land but would release toxins and priority air pollutants. Thermal oxidation is an example of such a process. Elcon Recycling Services tried to get approvals for a hazardous waste processing plant that would use thermal oxidation to treat the waste. They could have included fracking wastewater in the waste stream; there was nothing in any permit disallowing it. Yet DRBC did not step in to regulate this facility after the company decided not to discharge wastewater to the river and instead to rely on a system that only discharged to air. The air pollution would have direct environmental and public health impacts but without a water discharge, the permitting was left to the PA Dept. of Environmental Protection which has not been a good guardian of the environment allowing extensive contamination of air and water in PA. If this project had not been stopped by the public, fracking wastewater could have entered the basin and contaminated the watershed’s air, water, soils, vegetation and communities. See Reference 1.
  • There are many ways that the constituents in fracking wastewater can result in dangerous air pollution from thermal oxidation. Incineration of toxic waste is not used as frequently as it used to be because of all the pollutants that are released. However, “no-discharge” thermal oxidation hazardous waste treatment can form more toxic by-products than does incineration of hazardous waste due to low or moderate temperature processing. Additionally, toxic byproducts are formed during various phases of the treatment process and released. The fracking wastewater stream changes regularly and the specific constituents are often proprietary or not required to be disclosed, monitored or measured, making it nearly impossible to predict and thereby control the emissions from a thermal unit. After the thermal process, there is still a highly toxic residue that must be trucked away for disposal, posing even further toxic pollution. Fracking wastewater can be part of this waste stream at such a facility. I am very concerned that this toxic brew of chemicals and dangerous materials will harm my health and my family’s health and will harm the fish and wildlife that live in our watershed. DRBC, please ban the import of frack wastewater so that it cannot be allowed to be processed and released through this loophole that will remove your regulation of toxic emissions contained in fracking  wastewater. See Reference 2.
  • Examples of contaminants that can be released to the air through thermal oxidation and are also found in fracking wastewater are radioactive elements and selenium. When present in the waste stream and not effectively removed, these pollutants are discharged to the air and fall to the earth. They also find their way into groundwater and surface water through spills and leaks from storage and transfers. The radioactive materials are taken up by micro-organisms in the river bed and, sometimes, directly from the water into the gills of species such as catfish. Even with low concentrations of radioactive materials in surface water, they can bioaccumulate and create serious problems, impacting fish and aquatic organisms throughout the food web and human health. Exposure to high levels of radium-226 and radium-228 can cause cancer and studies show low levels are also highly dangerous. The Marcellus shale is highly radioactive. Selenium in the emissions from thermal oxidation creates a serious toxicity problem. Selenious acid is formed when selenium oxides are dissolved in water and the acid is extremely toxic to all types of aquatic creatures. Selenium is a known constituent in wastewater produced by fracking. See Reference 3.
  • Human health effects of air pollution that can be caused by thermal oxidation of hazardous waste include decreased lung function, inflammatory responses, diminished lung function and lung function growth in children, increased cardiovascular events,genotoxicity, and reproductive effects. Despite these known impacts, very little study has been done about the health effects of thermal oxidation and combustion of hazardous wastes. It is wrong to use people as guinea pigs by blindly exposing them to toxins. Fracking wastewater could be included in the hazardous waste, just as it could have been in the Elcon waste stream, because it is not banned from being imported into the watershed. I urge you to prevent the human health trauma that would be caused due to this loophole; you should completely stop the import of fracking wastewater. See Reference 4.


Reference 1: Talking Point #2 and Assembly Resolution No. 37, State of New Jersey 219th Legislature, “Opposes construction of hazardous waste incinerator in Falls Township, Pennsylvania” at: https://www.njleg.state.nj.us/2020/Bills/AR/37_I1.PDF.

“Although these methods may be executed safely, formation of toxic combustion or reaction by-products is still a cause of concern. Emissions of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs); chlorinated hydrocarbons (CHCs), including polychlorinated dibenzo-p-dioxins and dibenzofurans; and toxic metals (e.g., chromium VI) have historically been the focus of combustion and health effects research. However, fine particulate matter (PM) and ultrafine PM, which have been documented to be related to cardiovascular disease, pulmonary disease, and cancer, have more recently become the focus of research. Fine PM and ultrafine PM are effective delivery agents for PAHs, CHCs, and toxic metals. In addition, it has recently been realized that brominated hydrocarbons (including brominated/chlorinated dioxins), redox-active metals, and redox-active persistent free radicals are also associated with PM emissions from combustion and thermal processes.” Excerpted from Abstract: Stephania A. Cormier,1 Slawo Lomnicki,2 Wayne Backes,3 and Barry Dellinger2, “Origin and Health Impacts of Emissions of Toxic By-Products and Fine Particles from Combustion and Thermal Treatment of Hazardous Wastes and Materials,” Environ Health Perspect.. doi: 10.1289/ehp.8629 PMCID: PMC1480527 PMID: 16759977, 2006 Jun; 114(6): 810–817. Pub. online 2006 Jan 26 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1480527/

Reference 2: “Combustion and thermal processes are dominant sources of air pollution. Although much attention is still paid to their contribution to priority air pollutants [i.e. ozone, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and nitrogen oxides (NOx)], they also produce chronically toxic products of incomplete combustion (PICs). The greenhouse gas carbon dioxide is a product of complete combustion of carbon, and the ozone promoter NOx is a product of complete combustion of nitrogen. However, chronically toxic organic pollutants, such as benzene, polychlorinated dibenzo-p-dioxins and dibenzofurans (PCDD/Fs), acrylonitrile, and methyl bromide, are products of incomplete combustion of carbon, carbon and chlorine, carbon and nitrogen, and carbon and bromine compounds, respectively. Although these toxic combustion by-products are formed in many types of combustion and thermal processes, they have historically been of particular concern for incineration of hazardous wastes and soils/sediments contaminated with hazardous wastes. For this reason, on-site incineration, defined as direct contact of the waste material with a flame, has come into disfavor. Instead, thermal destruction or desorption (in which the waste does not directly contact the flame) has been frequently substituted. Unfortunately, low- or moderate-temperature treatment has the potential to form more toxic by-products than does incineration.” Excerpted from: Stephania A. Cormier,1 Slawo Lomnicki,2 Wayne Backes,3 and Barry Dellinger2, “Origin and Health Impacts of Emissions of Toxic By-Products and Fine Particles from Combustion and Thermal Treatment of Hazardous Wastes and Materials,” Environ Health Perspect.. doi: 10.1289/ehp.8629 PMCID: PMC1480527 PMID: 16759977, 2006 Jun; 114(6): 810–817. Pub. online 2006 Jan 26 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1480527/

Reference 3: Talking Points #2 and #6. Radium and Selenium are listed as constituents commonly found in wastewater produced by fracking. See: EPA Technical Development Document for the Effluent Limitations Guidelines and Standards for the Oil and Gas Extraction Point Source Category (June 2016). https://www.epa.gov/eg/unconventional-oil-and-gas-extraction-effluent-guidelines-documents.

“Radium is a known cancer-causing substance. Exposure to high levels of radium can lead to higher chances of bone, liver and breast cancer”. See:  https://www.dhss.delaware.gov/dhss/dph/files/radiumfaq.pdf  

“I am now of the opinion that the normal radio-activity of the human body should not be increased, strongly presuming that increased amounts of radio-activity may produce, over a number of years, malignancy…” – Dr. Harrison Martland, “The Occurrence of Malignancy in Radio-Active Persons”, The American Journal of Cancer October 1931, as quoted by Justin Nobel, author, journalist and environmental scientist. Mr. Nobel continues: “Martland was Newark City Hospital Pathologist, Chief Medical Examiner of Essex County New Jersey. He did autopsies on 18 of the “radium girls” and is regarded as one of the founders of occupational radiation health.” See: Harrison S. Martland, “The Occurrence of Malignancy in Radio-Active Persons: A General Review of Data Gathered in the Study of the Radium Dial Painters, with Special Reference to the Occurrence of Osteogenic Sarcoma and the Inter-Relationship of Certain Blood Diseases”, American Journal of Cancer,  Volume 15, Issue 4. DOI: 10.1158/ajc.1931.2435 Published October 1931. https://cancerres.aacrjournals.org/content/15/4/2435

Selenious acid is highly soluble in water and toxic to aquatic life: https://www.epa.gov/sites/default/files/2016-07/documents/aquatic_life_awqc_for_selenium_-_freshwater_2016.pdf 



Reference 4: Much is not known about the health effects of thermal oxidation and combustion of hazardous wastes. That research is essential to protect public health and resources. “Understanding the relationships between the origins, mechanisms of formation, nature of emissions, biological availability, and biological activity of toxic combustion by-products will require well-coordinated interdisciplinary research by biomedical, biological, chemical, and engineering researchers.” Excerpted from: Stephania A. Cormier,1 Slawo Lomnicki,2 Wayne Backes,3 and Barry Dellinger2, “Origin and Health Impacts of Emissions of Toxic By-Products and Fine Particles from Combustion and Thermal Treatment of Hazardous Wastes and Materials,” Environ Health Perspect.. doi: 10.1289/ehp.8629 PMCID: PMC1480527 PMID: 16759977, 2006 Jun; 114(6): 810–817. Pub. online 2006 Jan 26 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1480527/

Check out Watershed Wednesdays – Week 1 and submit a comment on that one too if you can!