Sunday, May 12, 2013

Radioactive fracking debris triggers worries at dump sites 

By Timothy Puko 

Published: Saturday, May 11, 2013, 9:00 p.m.Updated 20 hours ago 

When a garbage truck from a shale gas well set off radiation detectors at a South Huntingdon landfill on April 19, it drew attention from township officials.
But they aren't the only ones watching what's become a growing issue all over Pennsylvania. The number of garbage trucks setting off radiation monitors had a fivefold increase between 2009 and 2012, drawing renewed attention from state officials who hadn't believed radiation would be a big problem from the state's drilling industry.
South Huntingdon is trying to block MAX Environmental Technologies Inc. from receiving DEP permission to accept a higher level radioactive waste, supervisor Melvin Cornell said.
“This stuff they compile as they dump it. It will grow and grow and grow,” Cornell said. “Hey, if there's nothing wrong, take it down, and make a playground with it where they live. That might sound harsh, but we don't want it here.”
Between 2009 and 2012, radiation alarms went off 1,325 times in 2012, with more than 1,000 of those alerts just from oil and gas waste, according to data from the Department of Environmental Protection.
The state's landfills have to one day be fit for people to live on after they close, so the state has to make sure they aren't allowing a dangerous build-up of radioactivity, officials said.
The spike in radiation alarms gave them pause for concern and is a big reason they started a year-long study of radioactivity in the shale gas industry, which the DEP announced in January.
“All the data we have indicates public health is protected. We want to make sure going forward, long term, things stay that way,” DEP spokesman Kevin Sunday said.
State regulators, industry supporters and some scientists say that treating shale waste properly eliminates big health risk. But there are critics who argue that bringing large quantities of even low-level radioactive particles to the surface can lead to a slow, incremental build up of particles that people breathe or eat throughout their lifetimes.
The state began requiring radiation monitors at landfills in 2002 because of medical waste. But oil and gas waste — which brings up naturally occurring radiation formerly locked a mile or so underground — has become an increasing concern.
The spike in radiation alarms roughly corresponds shale drilling activity. Radiation detectors went off 423 times in 2008 and 1,325 times in 2012, according to DEP data. Gas drillers punched 335 new shale wells in 2008 and 1,354 new shale wells in 2012.
The average radium content in Marcellus shale wastewater samples was more than double the content found in wastewater from other gas-producing formations, the Geological Survey found in 2011.
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