Surface water and groundwater analysis using aryl hydrocarbon and endocrine receptor biological assays and liquid chromatography-high resolution mass spectrometry in Susquehanna County, PA†
The contamination of surface water and ground water by human activities, such as fossil fuel extraction and agriculture, can be difficult to assess due to incomplete knowledge of the chemicals and chemistry involved. This is particularly true for the potential contamination of drinking water by nearby extraction of oil and/or gas from wells completed by hydraulic fracturing. A case that has attracted considerable attention is unconventional natural gas extraction in Susquehanna County, Pennsylvania, particularly around Dimock, Pennsylvania. We analyzed surface water and groundwater samples collected throughout Susquehanna County with complementary biological assays and high-resolution mass spectrometry. We found that Ah receptor activity was associated with proximity to impaired gas wells. We also identified certain chemicals, including disclosed hydraulic fracturing fluid additives, in samples that were either in close proximity to impaired gas wells or that exhibited a biological effect. In addition to correlations with drilling activity, the biological assays and high-resolution mass spectrometry detected substances that arose from other anthropogenic sources. Our complementary approach provides a more comprehensive picture of water quality by considering both biological effects and a broad screening for chemical contaminants.