A truck traveling from a hydraulic fracturing site set off a radiation alarm at a Pennsylvania landfill Friday, with the alarm indicating that the truck was emitting radiation 10 times higher than what is permitted on the landfill.
The truck was found to be emitting 96 microrem of radiation. The landfill is required to reject materials that emit more than 10 microrem. By way of comparison, a typical body scanner at an airport emits about 10 microrem, which is equivalent to about 15 minutes of exposure to the sun’s rays.
According to published reports, the truck was emitting gamma radiation known as “radium 226” at almost 10 times the level permitted at the landfill. The vehicle operated by MAX Environmental Technologies was first quarantined at the landfill after the radiation was detected before being sent back to the fracking pad — Rice Energy’s Thunder II pad in Greene County. The vehicle, which carried drill cuttings for disposal, was later redirected to a disposal site that accepts higher levels of radiation.
Public officials have tried to assuage fears, calling the exposure “low-level radiation.” No injuries have been reported as a result of the incident.
“It’s low-level radiation, but we don’t want any radiation in South Huntingdon,” Tom Cornell, a township supervisor where the landfill is located, told the Pittsburgh Tribune Review.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) warns:
“Long-term exposure to radium increases the risk of developing several diseases. Inhaled or ingested radium increases the risk of developing such diseases as lymphoma, bone cancer, and diseases that affect the formation of blood, such as leukemia and aplastic anemia.”
EPA studies show that the source of radiation at fracking sites comes as a waste produced during the process of oil and gas drilling that can penetrate water, drilling mud, sludge, slimes or scale that can form in pipes, storage tanks or other extraction equipment.
In its more dangerous form, radiation produced at frack sites can occasionally enter the air, posing a direct threat to workers at frack sites and surrounding communities.
This incident underscores the fears of environmental advocates who believe that fracking poses many dangers to human health and the environment. According to a January report by EcoWatch, fracking industry statistics show that one in three current fracking sites use carcinogenic chemicals as part of fracking fluid used in drilling operations.
During the study conducted between January 2011 and September 2012, researcher David Darling found that 9,310 fracking operations across the U.S. disclosed the use of at least one known carcinogen.
One of the main reasons oil and gas companies can use dangerous chemicals in fracking operations is because of changes to the Clean Water Act of 1972.
In 2005, the Bush administration helped Congress pass the Energy Bill, a piece of legislation that exempted hydraulic fracturing from the Clean Water Act. The loophole, referred to by some as the “Halliburton Loophole,” opened the door to widespread fracking, a drilling method practiced in limited forms since the 1950s.
For public officials in Pennsylvania, the elevated radiation is concerning but may only be an isolated incident that was caught before it posed a hazard to the public.
“Every landfill in the state has radiation monitors, and this showed the system did work,” John Poister, a spokesman for Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, said.
Pennsylvania claims to be the only state that requires landfills monitor for radiation levels in the incoming wastes.
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