Freshwater mussels, known for their ability to remain stationary in streambeds for years, play a crucial role in indicating the cleanliness of their environment. They filter water around them and ingest organic matter, which can result in reflecting environmental contaminants like radioactive particles.

Researchers from Penn State’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering recently conducted a study downstream of a centralized treatment facility in Western Pennsylvania that had been processing fracking wastewater for over two decades. Even after the facility ceased the acceptance of such water in 2019, the mussels in the area still contained radium traces linked to the Marcellus Shale fracking wastewater.

The presence of radium in the mussels’ tissue and shells was a clear indication of the exposure to radioactive materials present in the wastewater. The discharge of treated water into surface water, such as rivers, resulted in the contamination of mussels located near the discharge site.

The researchers compared the levels of radium in mussels to the permissible limits for radiation exposure. The results showed that the mussels contained a significantly higher amount of radium compared to the recommended annual exposure limit by the International Atomic Energy Agency.

While freshwater mussels are not consumed by humans, they are an essential part of the aquatic ecosystem. Larger species, including waterbirds and otters, feed on mussels, which could lead to the contamination passing up the food chain, posing potential risks to other aquatic life and endangered species.

The study findings suggest the need for stricter regulations on wastewater disposal into surface water bodies, especially in areas where mussels are a food source. The information gathered from this research could play a crucial role in shaping future policies related to wastewater management and environmental protection.

The presence of radium in freshwater mussels downstream of a fracking wastewater treatment facility highlights the long-lasting effects of exposure to contaminants in the environment. It underscores the importance of monitoring and regulating industrial activities to protect the ecosystem and preserve the health of aquatic life.


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