In the Year 3619


FACT: Marcellus Shale gas drilling waste contains water soluble Radium 226 and Radium 228 that have contaminated our local environment. Over the past 15 years, this waste has been illegally dumped in multiple counties, willfully dumped into our waterways through sewage plants, and continues to be permitted waste in municipal landfills.

(Republished blog from December 18, 2019)
My earlier blog Radiation – The Fracking Industry Knew covers the background of these issues.

Is this real? Is radioactive waste flowing into our waterways? Yes. As Public Herald reported, this a reality for at least 15 sewage facilities in Pennsylvania.

Source: Interactive map

Public Herald’s must read story:

Pennsylvania Regulators Won’t Say Where 66% of Landfill Leachate w/ Radioactive Material From Fracking is Going…”It’s Private”

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

The Radium Girls

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 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…

  1. Oral – mouth
  2. Dermal – skin
  3. Inhalation – lungs
  4. Eyes

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.

What health outcomes did the radium girls have that show similarities? These excerpts from the book stood out:

“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.”

Read the book. If it doesn’t worry you, it probably should. With the Marcellus Shale being notorious for its highly radioactive nature, it’s time for Pennsylvania and other states to begin handling this shale waste for the “wily, tenacious element” it truly is, by “thinking it forward” – since it will persist another sixteen hundred years in our environment—until the year 3619. You can learn more in the report below.

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]

  • Uranium, a radionuclide present in the Marcellus shale formation, is not soluble in water, but radium-226, a progeny of uranium, is soluble in water and can become mobilized when formation water is brought to the surface with drilling fluid and drill cuttings. Due to its prolonged existence in an underground formation, formation water can become highly concentrated in radium-226 and other radionuclides.
  • During horizontal drilling, a liquid drilling fluid is used to circulate drill cuttings to the well surface. Again, this drilling fluid mixes with formation water that may be highly concentrated in radium-226 and other water-soluble radionuclides.
  • Radioactivity in the Marcellus shale results from the high content of naturally occurring radioactive uranium and thorium, their decay products including Radium-226, and radioactive potassium elements. The evidence of high radionuclide content is present in geochemical studies and in gamma-ray logs from wells drilled into the Marcellus formation.
  • In 1981 the United States Geological Survey performed a geochemical study of trace elements and uranium in the Devonian shale of the Appalachian Basin. Since Radium-226 is in secular equilibrium with U-238, it is also on the order of 30 pCi/g. These data show that the radioactivity of the Marcellus formation remains consistently high throughout.
  • In addition to geochemical studies, gamma ray drill logs also indicate high radioactivity in Marcellus shale. In fact, the Marcellus shale formation is identified using a gamma-ray detector that produces a chart of radioactivity (measured in GAPI units) versus depth. Shale rock always displays a spike on such graphs, but compared to other shales the Marcellus shale formation spike is substantially greater.
  • Several problems exist concerning contaminated liquid in the landfill. First, municipal waste landfills are lined with a layer of clay and plastic and are not designed to contain low level radioactive wastes. The leachate could mobilize radionuclides and distribute them in other locations throughout the landfill or potentially transport the radionuclides to groundwater sources outside the landfill in the event of a breach in the landfill lining.
  • Second, the fluid will mix with leachate collected in the Chemung County landfill. This leachate with residues of radionuclides will be sent to the Elmira wastewater treatment plant, which, like the landfill itself, is also not designed to deal with radioactive waste. Radium-226 has a 1600-year half-life, so this is a long-term problem.
  • Third, from the increasing inventory of radium-226, the landfill will generate progressively increasing volumes of radon gas over time, much of which can be expected to escape uncontrolled. As an inert gas, the landfill gas combustion device cannot control radon.
  • Fourth, trucks transporting cuttings waste to the landfill will carry a substantial volume of liquid with the cuttings and therefore can be expected to leak on occasion. The leaking liquid is particularly radioactive and, over time, can be expected to contaminate local roadways and roadways inside the landfill site.
  • The Marcellus shale has elevated radioactive concentrations, approximately 25-30 times above background concentrations. The drilling and dewatering processes enhance the concentration of radium in the drilling fluid. Rock cuttings that hold up to 20% of this fluid are still considered solid waste and will be disposed of in the County landfill. The introduction of this radioactive material into the landfill will give rise to serious problems due to the generation of radon, radiologically contaminated leachate and to potential reuse of the site in the future.
  • NYSDEC regulations regarding the radiation doses from a decommissioned site and the allowable concentrations of radium in soil will be exceeded. In our opinion, these radioactive rock cuttings and associated radioactive drilling fluids belong in a radioactive landfill, such as the Envirocare landfill in Clive, Utah. Radium-contaminated waste is similar to U mill tailings, which the Utah landfill is designed for.
On January 20, 2018 Reid Frazier of StateImpact Pennsylvania reported:

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.

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