Top Ten Scary Facts About Pennsylvania’s Rivers

While the ghosts and ghouls of Halloween costumes disappear after October 31st, the very real and very scary problems facing Pennsylvania’s rivers are not going anywhere. 



While the ghosts and ghouls of Halloween costumes disappear after October 31st, the very real and very scary problems facing Pennsylvania’s rivers are not going anywhere.  Natural gas extraction, irresponsible development, and industrial waste are all contributing to serious problems in rivers like the Monongahela, Ohio, and Allegheny.  Levels of toxic chemicals in our waters are at times so high that our rivers are too dangerous to swim in, and our waters so contaminated that people cannot drink from them. In honor of this scariest of holidays, PennEnvironment offers ten of the most frightening facts about these three rivers, and what we can do to make next Halloween a lot less terrifying for Pennsylvania’s waterways and everyone who depends on them.

Top 10 Frightening Facts:

1. This year, the Monongahela River was ranked number nine on American’s Most Endangered Rivers list.
2.  Right now, 59% of streams in Pennsylvania are at risk of losing their Clean Water Act protections because of the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decisions. [ii]
3.  Close to 8 million Pennsylvanians get their drinking water from sources fed by streams that may no longer be protected by the Clean Water Act. [iii]
4.  Natural gas extraction through the process of hydraulic fracturing in the Monongahela River Basic has put the health of hundreds of thousands of people who rely on the river for their drinking water at risk. [iv]
5.  Hydraulic fracturing uses millions of gallons of water, usually taken from nearby streams, lakes, and rivers such as the Monongahela.  Water is mixed with chemical sand injected deep down into the ground to release natural gas.  Such massive water withdrawals have serious negative consequences, both on the waterways from which the water is taken, and on the groundwater into which the chemical-laden water can seep into.  The excessive water withdrawals can impair wildlife and recreation and decrease the water body’s ability to filter pollutants. [v]
6.   Natural gas extraction, especially when combined with pollution from other industries such as coal mining, can cause a high concentration of total dissolved solids in the beds of these waterways.  The extra chemicals allow algae such as the toxic golden algae bloom to flourish, and can result in massive kills of fish and bivalves such as mussels. [vi]
7.  According to the EPA, more than 2.5 million pounds of toxic chemicals were dumped into the Monongahela River in 2007. [vii]
8.  U.S. Steel’s Edgar Thomson Plant released over 1,000 pounds of cancer-causing chemicals, over 400 pounds of developmental toxicants, and over 1,000 pounds of reproductive toxicants into the Monongahela River in 2007. [viii]
9.  In 2007, the Ohio River ranked first in the nation for toxic discharges amongst more than 1,900 waterways. That same year the Ohio River had the greatest amount of cancer-causing chemical discharges and reproductive toxicants in America. [ix]
10. Annually, combined sewage overflows affect Pittsburgh’s three rivers between 40-70 days during the boating season (May 15-Oct. 1) making the water quality unacceptable for recreational contact. [x]
We have an opportunity to improve the condition of the rivers of Pennsylvania and reduce the amount of pollution going into them so that next Halloween the health of these waters will be far less scary.  Currently, many of the streams that feed the Monongahela, Ohio, and Allegheny Rivers and the acres of wetlands that surround them may no longer protected, due to loopholes in the Clean Water Act.  This means that developers and other powerful interests can dump their wastes with impunity into the waters that flow into our river and pave over the wetlands that keep them clean.  In order to ensure the health of the Monongahela, Ohio, and Allegheny Rivers and all of Pennsylvania’s waters, including streams and wetlands, we must restore the Clean Water Act protections to the small streams and wetlands across Pennsylvania and close these existing loopholes.
We cannot let this opportunity to protect Pennsylvania’s rivers pass us by, which is exactly why PennEnvironment is calling on the EPA to restore the Clean Water Act.  By acting now, the EPA can protect the Monongahela, Ohio, and Allegheny for many years to come.

American Rivers, Monongahela River Among America’s Most Endangered Rivers, downloaded from…, 2 June 2010.

[ii] Data Source: National Hydrography Dataset (NHD) from Reach Address Database (RAD) v2.0 at 1:100,000 scale.  Percentages are calculated relative to total stream length using total kilometers of linear streams in watersheds that are totally or partially contained within each state boundary.  Watersheds are at the 8-digit Hydrologic Unit Code (HUC) level.

[iii] Data Sources: NHD (1:100,000 scale), Safe Drinking Water Information System (SDWIS); Preliminary Analysis.  Source water protection areas (SWPAs) (based on SDWIS 4th Quarter 2003 data) for this estimate encompasses the drainage area of up to 15 miles upstream from a drinking water intake, and any SWPA that contains at least one start reach or intermittent/ephemeral stream is included in the count.  Only SWPAs of intakes located on the NHD are included in this analysis (EPA has located over 85% of intakes on the NHD).

[iv] American Rivers, Monongahela River Among America’s Most Endangered Rivers, downloaded from, 2 June 2010.

[v] Ibid.

[vi] Ibid.

[vii] Tony Dutzik, Frontier Group, and Piper Crowell, John Rumpler, Environment America Research and Policy Center, Wasting Our Waterways, Fall 2009.  See Methodology Section on page 24 for data source.

[viii] Ibid.

[ix] PennEnvironment, Clean Water Reports, downloaded from, 21 October 2009.

[x] 3 Rivers Wet Weather, Allegheny County Sewer-Related Facts and Figures, downloaded from