(Republished blog from December 18, 2019)
My earlier blog Radiation – The Fracking Industry Knew covers the background of these issues.
Source: Interactive map
In Pennsylvania, the final destination of 66 percent of liquid waste from 30 municipal landfills accepting fracking’s oil and gas waste remains unknown. Oil and gas waste from fracking contains high concentrations of Technically Enhanced Naturally Occurring Radioactive Materials (TENORM), and wherever this radioactive TENORM waste is stored, rain carries water-soluble radionuclides such as Radium-226 through the landfill to create what’s known as leachate – the landfill’s liquid waste. This TENORM-laden leachate is commonly sent to Waste Water Treatment Plants (WWTPs) that are not equipped to remove it before it’s dumped into rivers. Full story
I just finished reading the book, The Radium Girls. What 100-year-old lessons might we learn from these women, who painted watch and dial faces with the same radioactive materials that are present in Marcellus Shale?
Image: New York Times Bestseller
The RADIUM GIRLS
The Dark Story of America’s Shining Women
The book focuses on young women from New Jersey and Illinois, often referred to as “artists,” who used luminescent paint to make the numbers and hands on watch and clock faces glow-in-the-dark. The most commonly used material was Radium 226 (Ra226), while at least one factory also added some Radium 228 (Ra228) to the paint mix.
As hard as it is to believe now, 100 years ago there was even a health supplement containing Ra228 known as Radithor. The dangers of exposure to these radionuclides began to reveal themselves in the radium girls during the Roaring 20’s, between World War I and America’s Great Depression.
The radium girls used fine bristled brushes to paint the luminous dials, and were taught a method known as “Lip – Dip – Paint” with the critical first step being repeated “pointing” of the brush with their lips, to keep the bristles close together in a point. They were repeatedly placing these brushes into their mouths.
Since they were told, and believed, the luminescent dust and paint was “safe,” they didn’t take any safety measures when it came to their exposure. As we have learned from pesticide safety training, there are 4 routes of pesticide poisoning, easily remembered using the abbreviation “ODIE.” The radium girls’ primary exposure route would have been oral, since they were constantly putting those brushes in their mouths, although they were likely exposed by all 4 routes since the dust got everywhere…
Once the serious dangers of radium poisoning revealed themselves, there were many long, drawn-out court cases, where the girls fought for justice. The corporations involved fought them tooth and nail, using various tactics to deny them compensation for medical bills and damages. Their sacrifices led to many of OSHA’s worker safety standards in place today.
As interesting as their court battles were, I want to focus more on their health outcomes, especially since we’ve had some youth cancer clusters appear in our four county region of southwestern Pennsylvania over the same timeline as Marcellus drilling and fracking. At least one health study is underway to determine if there is any link to Ewing sarcoma and other youth cancers.
“The Center for Human Radiobiology (CHR) studied the dial-painters for decades. Its scientists came to learn that radium was a wily, tenacious element. With a half-life of 1,600 years, it had plenty of time to make itself known in those it had infiltrated, inflicting its own, special damage across the decades.”
“The older the women were when they dial-painted, and the fewer years they worked, the less likely they were to die in the early stages—so they lived on, but the radium lived with them, a marriage from which there was no divorce.”
“The Argonne List of the Doomed makes for chilling reading, charting as it does each woman’s suffering with cool detachment. ‘Bilateral amputations of both legs; amputation of right knee; died of cancer of ear; brain; hip; cause of death: sarcoma; sarcoma; sarcoma‘ over and over through the files.”
MORE: Excerpts from a report prepared for Residents for the Preservation of Lowman and Chemung (RFPLC) concerning disposal of Marcellus Shale waste in a municipal landfill, dated May 19, 2010 and titled Radioactivity in Marcellus Shale by Marvin Resnikoff, Ph.D., Ekaterina Alexandrova, and Jackie Travers of Radioactive Waste Management Associates, New York, NY
[Complete PDF Report]
Study: Conventional drilling waste responsible for radioactivity spike in rivers
Treatment plants that handle conventional oil and gas waste water are causing a buildup of radioactive materials at the bottom of three Western Pennsylvania waterways, according to a new study from researchers at Duke. “We concluded that recent disposal of treated conventional (oil and gas waste) is the source of high (radium concentrations) in stream sediments at (waste) facility disposal sites,” the authors wrote. The study found high levels of radium, a naturally occurring, radioactive material, in river and stream sediment at levels up to 650 times those found upstream of three industrial waste treatment plants that handle fluid produced by conventional oil and gas wells.
Paul Ziemkiewicz, director of the West Virginia Water Research Institute at West Virginia University says even conventional waste water can be high in radium, so he’s not surprised at the study’s result. “When we’ve compared conventional and unconventional brines, chemically they’re almost identical,” he said. “It would be surprising to me if radium didn’t show up.” Ziemkiewicz says drinking water facilities must remove radium from drinking water; the most obvious concern he has would be for the accumulation of radium in the food chain, and eventually, fish. According to the federal Environmental Protection Agency, long term exposure to radium increases risk of lymphoma, bone cancer, and leukemia.