Gayathri Vaidyanathan, E&E reporter
Certain anti-microbial chemicals used in fracking fluids need to be reviewed by U.S. EPA and specifically labeled for use in hydraulic fracturing to protect workers' safety, a pesticide-control official says.
The chemicals, called biocides, are used to inhibit the growth of bacteria inside well bores. They are among a mixture of chemicals that companies pump underground, together with water and sand, to release trapped oil and gas in the process of hydraulic fracturing.
Because biocides control living organisms, they are similar to pesticides that control bugs or fungicides that control fungi and are regulated under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA).
Under that act, EPA's anti-microbial division needs to review chemicals and assign guidelines for use in fracking. The application rate of the product and the protective clothing needed for workers may be different in oil and gas compared with other industries where the same anti-microbial is applied.
"It would be designing a label that'd go on the product that says OK, you mix this particular product at a 1,000-to-1 ratio, and when you are mixing these compounds together, you should be wearing these kinds of clothes or face shields," said Jeff Comstock, the president-elect of the Association of American Pesticide Control Officials (AAPCO) and a soil scientist at the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets.
Comstock raised the issue last week at an AAPCO meeting of regulators who deal with the enforcement of FIFRA.
The issue is analogous to the use of bleach. A bottle of chlorine bleach used for doing laundry will have a different EPA registration number than a bottle of the same chemical used in industrial applications, such as in wastewater treatment plants to disinfect water. And although no special precautions need to be taken while cleaning clothes with bleach, workers in a treatment plant would need protective clothing to use the chemical, as indicated on the label.
"The labeling addresses the health and safety factors for the person using the chemical, and then also the environmental impact or benefit of using that chemical," Comstock said.
The health and toxicology data for the review already exist with EPA, and it would simply be a matter of using that information to figure out guidelines for use specific to hydraulic fracturing, Comstock said. The labeling would not affect the operation of the companies in any measurable way, he added.
So far EPA has only reviewed glutaraldehyde, a biocide, under FIFRA. Comstock said other anti-microbials used in fracking remain uncharacterized.
EPA did not return a request for comment by deadline.