HARRISBURG – The Department of Agriculture announced Thursday that it has quarantined cattle from a Tioga County farm after a number of cows came into contact with drilling wastewater from a nearby natural gas operation.
Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding said uncertainty over the quantity of wastewater the cattle may have consumed warranted the quarantine in order to protect the public from eating potentially contaminated beef.
“Cattle are drawn to the taste of salty water,” said Redding. “Drilling wastewater has high salinity levels, but it also contains dangerous chemicals and metals. We took this precaution in order to protect the public from consuming any of this potentially contaminated product should it be marketed for human consumption.”
Redding said 28 head of cattle were included in the quarantine, including 16 cows, four heifers and eight calves. Those cattle were out to pasture in late April and early May when a drilling wastewater holding pond on the farm of Don and Carol Johnson leaked, sending the contaminated water into an adjacent field where it created a pool. The Johnsons had noticed some seepage from the pond for as long as two months prior to the leak.
The holding pond was collecting flowback water from the hydraulic fracturing process on a well being drilled by East Resources Inc.
Grass was killed in a roughly 30- x 40-foot area where the wastewater had pooled. Although no cows were seen drinking the wastewater, tracks were found throughout the pool. The wet area extended about 200-300 feet into the pasture.
The cattle had potential access to the pool for a minimum of three days until the gas company placed a snow fence around the pool to restrict access.
Subsequent tests of the wastewater found that it contained chloride, iron, sulfate, barium, magnesium, manganese, potassium, sodium, strontium and calcium.
Redding said the main element of concern is the heavy metal strontium, which can be toxic to humans, especially in growing children. The metal takes a long time to pass through an animal’s system because it is preferentially deposited in bone and released in the body at varying rates, dependent on age, growth status and other factors. Live animal testing was not possible because tissue sampling is required.
The secretary also added that the quarantine will follow the recommended guidelines from the Food Animal Residue Avoidance and Depletion Program, as follows:
• Adult animals: hold from food chain for 6 months.
• Calves exposed in utero: hold from food chain for 8 months.
• Growing calves: hold from food chain for 2 years.
In response to the leak, the Department of Environmental Protection issued a notice of violation to East Resources Inc. and required further sampling and site remediation. DEP is evaluating the final cleanup report and is continuing its investigation of operations at the drilling site, as well as the circumstances surrounding the leaking holding pond.