New TDS Standards To Take Effect in Pa.

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A spokesman for the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (PADEP) confirmed that the agency's proposed state water quality standard for Total Dissolved Solids (TDS) will be published in the state's legal bulletin in either the August 21 or August 28, 2010 edition. Publication in the bulletin is the final step before the rule, which encompasses other changes, but which has been greatly scrutinized because of its proposed TDS standard, becomes effective.

Publication of the wastewater rule in the state's legal bulletin ends an 18-month process undertaken by PADEP to address alleged TDS issues in state waters, particularly in southwestern Pennsylvania.

The rule will require water treatment facilities that accept oil and gas related wastewater for treatment and discharge to surface water in Pennsylvania to meet a standard of 500 mg/l. The proposed standard is established to mirror the current secondary drinking water standard for TDS of 500 mg/l. A secondary drinking water standard is an aesthetic standard meant to protect against potential impacts such as odor and taste in drinking water, as opposed to a human health standard or concern.

The new standard applies to oil and gas related wastewater discharges and specifically allows for discharges from other existing dischargers well above the secondary drinking water standard. Earlier proposals would have required all wastewater discharges to meet the 500 mg/l standard. This position became untenable when it became clear that most industrial and domestic wastewater discharges would be unable to meet the stringent standard without incurring costs in the billions of dollars.

Even though the rule has been modified to allow for discharges above 500 mg/l from other industrial and domestic wastewater dischargers, the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry and other business groups have maintained that it could still have a costly impact on manufacturers, pharmaceutical firms and food processors.

The oil and gas industry continues to take steps itself to avoid surface discharges of treated wastewater by recycling and re-using its wastewater, thus addressing water use and wastewater handling concerns, and finding alternative means of disposal.

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