By Burton Speakman
As oil and gas development moves through the Mahoning Valley, some residents are going to their local health department for peace of mind.
The health departments in Mahoning, Trumbull and Columbiana counties each offer water-well testing that provides a baseline of water quality that meets state requirements. The testing is in case something would happen to reduce water quality due to oil and gas activity.
The testing offered by the Mahoning County Health Department is geared toward the requirements determined by the Ohio Department of Health, Ohio Department of Natural Resources and Ohio Environmental Protection Agency, said Scott Bolam, laboratory service director for the health department.
“These are good baseline tests people can use,” he said.
There are three tiers. The most basic costs $107, and tests for chemicals that are part of brine fluid. The second tier adds more metals and costs $208, Bolam said. Adding the third tier increases the cost of the testing to $396.
“We always try to encourage people to do the Tier 3 test if they can afford it,” he said.
Having someone from the health department collect the sample adds another $55 to the cost. The importance in having someone else collect the samples is so it creates a “chain of custody” for a possible court case, Bolam said.
“If the property owner collects the sample themselves, there is no way to prove where the water came from,” he said.
Oil and gas development remains in the early stages in Mahoning County and most people who are requesting the tests have heard about a well being drilled near their property, Bolam said. The property owners want to protect themselves.
Trumbull County began receiving requests about water testing around February of this year, said Frank Migliozzi, environmental director for the Trumbull County Health Department.
“What they’re looking for is to establish a baseline. It would give them peace of mind in case something happens, they can go back to the baseline,” he said.
The costs for the tests in Trumbull are $187 for Tier 1, $288 for Tier 2 and $476 for Tier 3. The county keeps just enough money to cover the cost of the technician who collects the sample. The rest goes to the Mahoning County Health Department’s laboratory, which does the lab work, Migliozzi said. “The number of tests have increased. We’re now taking requests weekly,” he said.
The expectation is that more people will request these water tests as oil and gas activity starts in Trumbull County and more people learn about the program, Migliozzi said.
“At this point oil and gas activity has pretty much been nonexistent in this county,” he said.
The program in Columbiana County was the first in the Valley. It started because residents had concerns about oil and gas activities’ potential impact on water wells, said Wesley Vins, Columbiana health commissioner. The testing is not limited to chemicals from oil and gas operations.
Residents also had questions about the effects landfills, strip mining and agriculture have on their wells, he said. The program is mostly self-sufficient paid through the costs of the tests, which could cost up to $755.
“We try to look at the overall public-health issues,” Vins said. “It’s been a pretty successful program. We’ve probably taken 80 samples or so.”
In addition to sampling chemicals, the test also looks at the water-flow levels for wells, he said.
“Because of the dry conditions, we had a few wells go dry this year, but none of them were in close proximity to drilling activity,” Vins said. “We also checked to see if we have more wells go dry than in a typical year.”
One issue in Columbiana County is the age of the wells and septic systems where most of the wells and septic systems are older. These systems only last so long and eventually have to be replaced, he said.
For more information about the testing, contact the local health departments at Mahoning: 330-270-2855 Trumbull: http://www.tcbh.org/pdfs/WaterTest_Application.pdf or call 330-675-2489 Columbiana: http://www.columbiana-health.org/privatewater.html or call 330-424-0272.