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Opinion By James Hufnagel

The Niagara Falls Water Board, the Andrew Cuomo administration, local environmental groups and the media have all been strangely silent in the wake of a story first reported here two weeks ago detailing a massive plan to import toxic gas drilling wastewater for treatment and release into the Niagara River.

The saga began with the invention of hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking," a technique that made possible a natural gas drilling gold rush presently centered around northwestern Pennsylvania. Drillers had been merrily dumping the used frack water into rivers, streams, lakes and ponds, or onto fields and along roads, and when they got busted for doing that, they began directing it to municipal water treatment facilities.

Then folks living along the Monongahela River near Pittsburgh were informed that they couldn't drink the water anymore because of contamination originating from an upriver treatment plant engaged in frack water processing.

In short order, both Pennsylvania and Ohio banned delivery of frack waste to the treatment facilities, which was proof that it was pretty bad stuff, considering the exceedingly permissive environmental regulatory climate in those two states.

Today the frack water is trucked to Ohio injection wells, where it is disposed of deep within the earth, a cumbersome and expensive process.

We'll probably never know for sure where the lightbulb first flickered, whether in the brain of a water board member, Albany bureaucrat or National Fuel executive, but as far back as January it's clear from the meeting minutes of the Niagara Falls Water Board that the wheels were set in motion to cash in on the coming hazardous frack wastewater boom.

The supposed advantage the Niagara Falls water treatment plant holds over those of Ohio and Pennsylvania -- or elsewhere in New York state, for that matter -- is the use of activated carbon to remove contaminants. However, the ability of the facility to remove the hundreds of chemical additives, radioactive substances and petrochemical waste contaminants is highly open to question.

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation lists on their website some of the components of "frack" water: potassium chloride to reduce friction; glutaraldehyde, which is a "biocide" used to kill plants and microorganisms; hydrochloric acid to prevent drilling mud damage; N-dimethyl formamide to prevent well corrosion; various petroleum distillates to reduce friction; and ethylene glycol, better known as "antifreeze."

Energyindepth.org, an industry website, also lists polyacrylamide, a potent neurotoxin. In addition, the millions of gallons of frack water returning back up the average gas well bring to the surface heavy metals, arsenic, and radioactive radium and uranium from deep rock layers.

There are no national or state standards for what gas drillers can add to frack water before injecting it into a well, since Congress exempted frack water from regulation by the 2005 Safe Drinking Water Act.

A 2011 report released by the House Energy and Commerce Committee listed 750 additives, 29 of which are known carcinogens, that are routinely used by the scores of gas drillers who are poised to ship their toxic frack wastewater to Niagara Falls for treatment and discharge into the Niagara River.

A nationally recognized expert in the field of municipal water treatment and wastewater management is deeply skeptical about the ability of the water board's Buffalo Avenue plant to effectively remove contaminants from gas drilling frack water.

Walter Hang is president of Toxic Targeting, Inc., an Ithaca, N.Y.-based consulting firm. Toxic Targeting is not some tree-hugger organization dedicated to advancing burdensome regulations and killing jobs. Using cutting-edge mapping and database technologies, Toxic Targeting supplies information to business, government and private individuals engaged in property evaluation, regional planning and mortgage risk management with respect to proximity to superfund, toxic dump and brownfield sites.

With over 40 years of experience evaluating the efficacy of wastewater management processes and facilities, Hang has served as a consultant for "60 Minutes" and The New York Times on the subject of water pollution, and is the author of "The Ravaged River: Toxic Chemicals in the Niagara River," published as far back as 1981.

Hang contends that the Niagara Falls treatment facility is incapable of effectively filtering many of the toxic compounds, which vary according to the unique additive recipes employed by the scores of different drillers who could potentially send their frack water here.

"There is no place in the country as lax as Niagara Falls with respect to regulatory violations involving water quality," Hang told me in a phone interview. "The granular activated-carbon process is inadequate for filtering and removing the frack constituents."

Pretreatment, which is performed by the industrial source and is designed to remove 85 percent of contaminants, is lacking or nonexistent when it comes to the frack wastewater as delivered by the drillers, most of whom are headquartered in Texas, Oklahoma and Louisiana.

Hang also described how toxic waste emanating from Niagara Falls landfills is easily detected in the drinking water of Niagara River communities like Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont., and how these compounds primarily transport and concentrate along the south Lake Ontario shoreline.

Niagara Falls Reporter www.niagarafallsreporter.com Aug. 9, 2011