Who benefits from the “beneficial use” of radioactive waste?
As if they haven’t caused enough havoc by destroying social programs, pensions, women’s health and voting rights – our multi-tasking state legislators now want to line their pockets while they line our landfills with radioactive waste. Ohio’s neo-conservative Republican Governor John Kasich, a founding member of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), has come up with another way to frack the people of Ohio with this “beneficial use” scam. If you wanted to suck up to the fracking industry and transform Ohio into a haven of radioactive waste dumps, the best place to hide it is in the budget. The Ohio budget bill (SB 59) passed in June gives the Ohio Department of Natural Resources sole authority over the radioactive content of fracking wastes, along with the most of the toxic sludge that the industry brings up from deep underground. This squeezes-out other regulatory agencies like the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency and the Ohio Department of Health. Both are out, no longer protecting people, the environment and our health from the sludge. Horizontal hydraulic fracturing drilling, or what we know as “fracking,” routinely produces radioactive waste as a byproduct. A typical well extracts 1500 tons of clay and stone that is often radioactive. Tons of toxic water co-mingled with each fracking company’s proprietary chemical cocktail is injected into the wells to extract gas and oil. This process of forcing water and chemicals into the earth dissolves tremendous amounts of radium 226. Radium has a half-life of more than 1600 years.

Abnormal is the new NORMal

Ohio Senate Bill 59 deals with this in the following way – it simply re-classifies this radioactive fracking waste to the status of normally-occurring radioactive material (NORM) from its previous status of “technically-enhanced NORM,” called TENORM. By redesignating it to be NORM, the fracking waste no longer has to be monitored or handled in any special manner. If the waste had correctly remained TENORM, it would be closely regulated as radioactive material. Only about 10 percent of the total radioactively contaminated fracking waste stream will now be regulated. The only fracking waste that remains regulated as TENORM is drilling muds, spent pipes and sludges from the bottom of tanks.

The “beneficial use” of radioactivity

“Drill cuttings” – meaning the soil, rock fragments and pulverized material that are removed from a borehole during the fracking drilling process – are now de-regulated. This allows the radioactive material to be disposed of in landfills throughout Ohio. The Free Press could find no other states that have declassified such radioactive material. How is this done? SB 59 contains a so-called “beneficial use” clause that allows fracking drill cuttings to be deposited in licensed landfills as a clay liner. If the drill cuttings are used as a liner, they are required to be remediated by removing all hydrocarbon residue, including diesel fuel. The law does not require that any radioactive content be removed, since it is, well, NORMal.

Getting lit takes on a whole new meaning

Ohio Soil Recycling (OSR) handles remediation at the Integrity Drive dump in Columbus. OSR has developed a process using microbes that “eat” the hydrocarbons and thus remediating the soil. Their process does not remove radium and radioactive components. Radioactive elements are highly water-soluble and are prone to entering the watershed through leaching over time. The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (OEPA) limits the amount of low-level radioactive materials to 5 picocuries in our drinking water. An Ohio Department of Health memo entitled “Analysis of Environmental Samples for Gamma Ray Producing Nucleides” analyzed six samples of fracking material and found that the fracking mud contained 896 picocuries of radioactive material, 3000 times the allowable EPA drinking water limit, which would be regulated. But coming out of the exact same hole the remaining 90 percent of the material exposed to the same radioactivity will now go to the Integrity Drive dump on Alum Creek under “beneficial use.” Alum Creek flows next to the site and merges into the Scioto River just a few miles downstream. According to Teresa Mills of the Buckeye Forest Council, the Integrity Drive dump has twice been remediated itself in the past through EPA enforcement for leaching toxins into Alum Creek. Mills claims that the clay topping layer is expected to take fifteen years to complete, while the heavy metals will leach through in rain and snow.

Will we get Pennsylvania’s sloppy seconds?

In 2012, more than 22,000 tons of drill cuttings and other toxic waste were dumped in Ohio’s landfill from Pennsylvania’s fracking industry. According to a study by Radioactive Waste Management Associates, “The state could see more than 4000 fracking wells over the next ten years.” The study points out that, “It takes between 2 and up to 8 million gallons of water to fracture a single Marcellus shale well one time, and each well may be fractured multiple times.” The report notes that: “…in April 2013, a truck carrying a load of solid fracking waste was sent away from the MAX landfill in South Huntingdon, Pennsylvania after the truckload set off an alarm because its contents were so radioactive. The drill cutting materials in the truck had a radiation dose rate of 96 microrems per hour caused by the radium 226 contents. The limit for radioactive material at the landfill is 10 microrems per hour.” After the passage of SB 59, they can simply bring these drill cuttings to Ohio.

Now we are fracked

By disposing of the radioactive drill cuttings as “beneficial” waste, the fracking industry will pay no fees to the area’s solid waste district or to the State of Ohio. Frackers are now relieved of the burden of paying to dispose of their radioactive waste in any safe manner. But the real beauty of “beneficial use” in the budget bill is that it exempts this radioactive material from any requirement that its toxic and radioactive content be tested. Rules are not in place for any kind of proper radiation monitoring in Ohio. According to retired OSU geologist Julie Weatherington-Rice, on-site monitors such as Geiger counters will not identify Radium 226 because the particles emitted are not picked up by the instrument. She claims it requires a 21-day lab test to incubate the material and then test for the radioactive products that result. Weatherington-Rice states that the lab tests are the only way to uncover the radium 226 potency. Radon gas is a daughter product of radium and is highly toxic. Non-smokers have gotten lung cancer from radon in homes. Long-term exposure to radium is also known to increase the risk of developing lymphoma, bone cancer, leukemia and aplastic anemia. Kasich and his Republican cohorts in the statehouse are raking in fracking industry donations (see sidebar) and now have relieved that industry from the burdens of regulation for 90 percent of its radioactive waste. So-called “beneficial use” is beneficial abuse for Republican lawmakers and we are all now victims of uncontrolled fracking.

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