Lithium in Drinking Water and Brine Water Marcellus Shale Citizen Private Well Monitoring



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The Water Research Center is a strong supporter of environmental education and the company feels privileged to make available this informational fact sheet for free as a means of environmental education, awareness, and outreach. 

In partial fulfillment of that obligation we are proud to make this report available to YOU.  There are a number of contaminants that threaten the safety and quality of our nations drinking water, but none is more misunderstood than lithium and barium.

For drinking water, there is no current EPA or Pennsylvania maximum contaminant level set for lithium.  Using an EPA provisional chronic oral reference dose  of 20 ug/kg/day, an estimated limit of 0.70 mg/L in drinking water was calculated.  This reference dose was derived from a review of the available data related to the lowest observable effect level of 20 mg/kg/day that was observed in long-term studies and treatment of humans using lithium (Source: Virginia Department of Health, 1997 and 2014).   In addition, the Pennsylvania Statewide Health Standards related to environmental clean-up sets a limit based on the use and total dissolves solids concentration of the water (Appendix A- Table 2; units in ug/L).

Lithium is in the alkali-metal group that includes sodium and potassium.   Lithium is used in batteries, ceramics, air-conditioning, grease, electric cars, and in pharmaceutical products.  Lithium is a soft, silver-white alkali metal, found in some foods and, in some places, the drinking water.  Lithium can be found throughout the world, but brine waters contain up to 0.050 to 2000 ppm, seawater up to 0.170 ppm, and freshwater typically less than 0.001 to 0.003 ppm and daily lithium content from food has been estimated at 2 milligrams per day with the primary source being grains and vegetables.  Lithium can be found in continental brine water, geothermal waters, and oil-gas field brines.   In addition, granitic and igneous rocks may have elevated levels of lithium.  The body processes lithium through the kidneys or in our excrement.   Locally, it appears that the groundwater in Northeastern Pennsylvania may have a lithium content ranging from < 0.2 mg/L to 0.24 mg/L.   One of the problems with conducting baseline testing for lithium is that many laboratories are not specifically certified for this parameter and some do not routinely conduct this testing.    When lithium was detected, it typically was associated with elevated levels of methane gas of what appears to be both biogenic and thermogenic origin.

As a medical treatment, lithium was first used in 1948 by Australian psychiatrist John Cade.  He used lithium to treat mania and after double blind placebo studies confirmed the benefits, lithium has evolved into a group to assist with psychiatric treatment and bipolar disorders and depression.

Other EPA References:   (Lithium not cited)

Lithium EPA Available Information on Health Effects and Dose:

For 25 years, I have been suggesting well owners get there water tested, here are some options:

a. Informational Water Testing
b. Private Well Owner and Watershed Survey - Free Radon in Water Testing
c. Baseline Testing Related to Natural Gas Development - Chain-of-Custody


1. We recommend testing for lithium as part of a baseline test.  This recommendation is advisable when the well has a high level of methane, appears to be impacted by saline water, or the well is located near a natural gas well site using surface impoundments for storage of flowback, production brines, or recycled water, or in an area with deep well injection is proposed.

2. We recommend lithium testing in areas where there are known saline water seeps, geothermal vents, or areas with igneous and metamorphic rock.

3. We also recommend testing for barium, bromide, and other water quality parameters as part of a baseline test.

You can monitor your general water quality at home using a small handheld

Other Reports are available for FREE.

Homeowners Guide to Drinking Water Test and Testing- What do I test for?
Newest Website - The MTBE Fact Sheet (A Past Problem - Should be Part of Baseline Test)
Newest Website - Arsenic In Groundwater  (A Pennsylvania Problem)
Radon in Water (A Pennsylvania Problem)

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