Toxicology Experts Discuss Contamination of Drinking Water


This case involves developing fracking wells that were allegedly releasing chemicals into the groundwater due to negligence on the part of a hydraulics company in Pennsylvania. A Pennsylvania-based family of five allowed an Oil and Gas operator to drill and simulate oil wells on their property for over 20 years, continuing into 2005. When drawing water from their home in 1996, the grandfather noticed a foul odor, and how the water would intermittently turn black. While the grandfather stopped drinking the well water, the entire family continued to shower with it. With the assurance of the oil and gas well operator in 2002 that a hydro-geological assessment of their well had tested negatively for any petroleum by-products or interaction between the gas and water wells, the husband began to drink the well water again. The grandfather began to exhibit neurological symptoms, including “spells,” memory issues, chronic body pains, sleep disturbances, and seizures.  The family experienced frequent nosebleeds. Nearby neighbors experienced nosebleeds, cognitive disorders, skin disorders, and some lost their hair and eyebrows. Livestock and animals in the area given the water died from unknown causes. Subsequent testing by the Environmental Protection Agency from detected toxic compounds in the family’s water and in nearby monitoring wells, and expressed the opinion that transmission from gas to water wells was the likely source of the toxic compounds. Hydro-geologic and Drilling experts identified that nearby gas wells were defective and leaking into the family’s water well, and noted that hydraulic fracturing was intermittently performed on nearby wells in the 1990’s and 2000’s.

Question(s) For Expert Witness

  • 1. How often do you see and/or study patients with similar symptoms from contaminated water?
  • 2. Are you able to look at a report of the chemicals detected in the patient's water supply and connect it to his symptoms, and would it be helpful to perform an Independent Medical Examination on the patient?

Expert Witness Response E-022427

I am regularly consulted about environmental exposures, including drinking water, at least once per month. I would say it would be prudent to look at the chemicals the grandfather was exposed to, the exposure duration, and its intensity as well as and review his medical records. An Independent Medical Examination is certainly a possibility. I have reviewed several cases, including a population of nearly 100 homes with contaminated water. I am quadruple board certified in Medical Toxicology, Occupational Medicine, Preventive Medicine and Family Medicine. I am an assistant clinical professor of Medicine in the Division of Occupational and Environmental Medicine and the medical director for the Health Service at at a national laboratory. I am also the assistant medical director for the California Poison Control System.

Expert Witness Response E-013464

The strength of the plaintiffs’ case depends largely on the identification of the specific ‘toxic chemicals’ that were found in their drinking water, and the concentrations in that water. Some hydrocarbons in petroleum products, at high enough dosage, could cause or contribute to the neurological symptoms, skin problems and potentially the nose bleed described. The hair loss of neighbors is not likely to be associated with hydrocarbons in crude oil, but it is possible that the oil exploration procedures increased the movement of soil thallium into drinking water. Thallium is one of the very few toxic substances known to specifically cause hair loss, as well as neurological symptoms. I have a PhD in Toxicology and am board certified in general toxicology. I have 40 years of academic toxicology research and consulting experience, and am also the past President of the Society of Toxicology; an elected member of the National Academy of Medicine; Fellow of the Academy of Toxicological Sciences; Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

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