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Radioactive Gas Drilling Waste Sets Off More Radioactivity Alarms

May 16, 2013
Toxic radioactive fracking waste is legally allowed to be labelled "Residual Waste." Fracking truck in Towanda, Bradford County, PA in 2011. Photo: Iris Marie Bloom

Fracking truck in Towanda, Bradford County, PA in June 2011. PA laws allow toxic radioactive fracking waste to be labelled “residual waste.” Photo: Iris Marie Bloom

Fracking industry truck drivers have been blowing the whistle for some time, saying that radioactivity alarms are going off “all the time.” Workers report that the radioactivity levels are sky-high, even in empty trucks that have already dumped their load of drill cuttings at landfills.  Now the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, Associated Press, StateImpact PAShale Reporter and other news outlets are revealing some of the numbers supporting an increased urgency to stop dumping radioactive waste all over Pennsylvania.

The basic AP story includes alarming numbers followed by empty reassurances from PA DEP with no data and no information to back up the myth that everything is just fine. No physicians, impacted residents, radioactivity experts or workers are interviewed — just the PA DEP spokesman, Kevin Sunday, whose job is to stifle public outrage. Here is the Shale Reporter version of the AP story:

PITTSBURGH (AP) — Gas drilling waste is setting off more radiation alarms at Pennsylvania landfills.

The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reports that the alarms went off 1,325 times in 2012, with more than 1,000 of those from oil and gas waste, according to Department of Environmental Protection data.

DEP spokesman Kevin Sunday tells the paper that all the data so far indicates that public health is protected. After an alarm workers flag the waste for special treatment.

The state began requiring radiation monitors at landfills in 2002 because of medical waste. But oil and gas drilling brings up mineral fragments containing naturally occurring radiation.

DEP says past research has shown problems are unlikely. DEP started a review in January to examine radioactivity in drilling waste and on all the equipment that handles it.

One wonders what this “past research is” that indicates that “problems are unlikely.”  To the contrary, past research, in fact, has shown flowback returning from Marcellus Shale drilling in Pennsylvania with Radium 226 levels thousands of times the safe limit for drinking water.  It is well known that fracking waste pits all over PA (like the one in Lycoming County where the plastic liner was found full of over 100 holes) leak toxic radioactive waste into our soil and groundwater every day. Flowback spills are a daily occurrence at frack pads, so routinely so that workers endure 18-hour shifts doing nothing but vacuuming up spills.  And Mac Sawyer, a former fracking truck driver and environmental cleanup worker in the Marcellus Shale industry in Pennsylvania, has stated that sometimes “they just disable the alarm” rather than treating flowback or drill cuttings waste with the special care required of radioactive waste. Uranium is mobilized by fracking, along with radium 226.

Radium 226 causes bone, liver, and breast cancer, according to the ATSDR (Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry). Radium 226 has a half-life of 1,500 years. Radium has also been shown to impact the blood, eyes, teeth, and more. ATSDR reports:

How can radium affect my health?

Radium has been shown to cause effects on the blood (anemia) and eyes (cataracts). It also has been shown to affect the teeth, causing an increase in broken teeth and cavities. Patients who were injected with radium in Germany, from 1946 to 1950, for the treatment of certain diseases including tuberculosis were significantly shorter as adults than people who were not treated.


How likely is radium to cause cancer?

Exposure to high levels of radium results in an increased incidence of bone, liver, and breast cancer. The EPA and the National Academy of Sciences, Committee on Biological Effects of Ionizing Radiation, has stated that radium is a known human carcinogen.

A number of people, including one 26-year old man, reported losing their teeth by late 2012 after drinking spring water (for years, apparently) that was contaminated by the gas drilling blowout (2010) in Moshannon State Forest.  The spring had a sign warning the water is contaminated, but the people who had always drunk from this perfectly good, pristine spring water collected their water from a different point where the sign was not visible.  We have not been able to directly confirm reports that a family in that area believes their young daughter died at the age of four after drinking water near where that 2010 blowout, by EOG Resources (the former Enron) occurred.  In case you’ve forgotten, that blowout spewed fracking flowback waste and methane high into the air for over 16 hours and “could have been” a “major catastrophe” according to the generally understated John Hanger, then-secretary of PA DEP.

A new poll suggests that Gov. Rendell's approval ratings have reached an all-time low.

Former PA Governor Ed Rendell, who now invests in and profits from Marcellus Shale industries, looked the other way while three of his former staffers approved the policy allowing trucks to carry toxic radioactive fracking waste while labeling it “residual waste” and not carrying a manifest, or placard, saying where the waste came from, what’s in it, how much there is of it, and where it’s going. Rendell’s former staffers jumped ship to work for the industry, and Rendell himself has become an industry cheerleader. Photo: politicalticker.blogs.cnn

PA DEP is and has been behind the eight ball — to put it mildly — when it comes to monitoring, fining, penalizing and reporting on the fracking industry.  Empty reassurances just aren’t enough when workers’ and residents’ health, and environmental well-being, is at stake. In a state that still allows fracking flowback to be dumped on roads legally for “dust suppression” and “de-icing” purposes, where spraying fracking waste on land is reported to continue, and where trucks with toxic radioactive waste are allowed to be labelled “residual,” we’d like to hear some outrage, instead of outrage management, from policymakers, opinion-makers and legislators.

Two-Thirds of Pennsylvanians Support a Gas Drilling Moratorium Now

On the good news side, PA Senator Leanna Washington has joined the list of co-sponsors for PA State Senator Ferlo’s gas drilling moratorium bill.  The two-thirds majority in Pennsylvania who support a gas drilling moratorium are starting to wake up and speak up.  Radioactive fracking waste is one more reason to step up the support for a moratorium now.

5 Comments
  1. May 16, 2013 6:13 pm

    I’ve been trying for years to find an analysis of flowback in the “brine” tanks on gas pads and in the tankers, labeled “residual waste” ! Why is that so hard to find? DEP doesn’t have any info to show what the makeup of flowback is. Why should this go to treatment plants and the drill cuttings which are also radioactive, go to landfills? We’re dealing with tons and millions of gallons of waste from every gas well.

  2. DEB permalink
    May 16, 2013 9:12 pm

    I live near a pipe yard, where they store the used drill pipe for reuse. The workers there report alarms that go off all the time. One man says it’s about every other load. I asked what happens to the pipe that sets off the alarms and he said they take it away. I asked where they took it to, and he said he didn’t know. So, where is all this radioactive waste going to?

  3. D Snutz permalink
    May 17, 2013 6:08 am

    There is no such thing as fracking truck drivers; or “fracking”. If you could write an intelligent piece on the industry, or at least spell the subject correctly you might open up some real discourse. Until then, articles like this are a joke.

  4. May 18, 2013 10:22 am

    When is too much enough?

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