New Plan for Disposing of Oil/Gas Waste: Where Bad Science Hits the Road

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The state of Ohio reached a new low when it approved the use of radioactive oil and gas-related waste “brine” on roads as a deicer and dust suppressant. This issue came to public attention during a state legislative hearing on a proposed bill that would make this practice easy to continue. In response, the Buckeye Environmental Network filed a public records request for an Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) report that tested several samples of AquaSalina, a product available to consumers in local hardware and home improvement stores across the state. This product is typically used on public roadways and on public and private driveways and sidewalks and in port-a johns. This waste is largely generated by the oil/gas industry.
Several samples were taken right off the shelf, one from a hardware store in Hartville, Ohio and another from a Lowe’s Home Center in Akron, OH. The state’s testing found alarming levels of radiation measured as radium 226 and 228 in the samples. In the Hartville store, the AquaSalina container had a combined radium concentration that was almost  500 times the U.S. EPA drinking water standard. The average radium concentration of the samples taken by the state was over 300 times the EPA standard. EPA drinking water standard for combined Radium-226 and Radium-228 is 5 picocuries per cubic liter (pCi/L).
Exposure to high levels of radium results in an increased risk of developing bone, liver and breast cancer. The EPA and the National Academy of Sciences Committee on the Biological Effects of Ionizing Radiation (BIER) define radium as a known human carcinogen. There is no safe level of exposure to radiation. Any exposure increases the risk of developing cancer. Spreading this radioactive consumer product on roads and sidewalks will also impact the environment. A study by researchers at Penn State University found that the radium spread on roads is not retained by the road where it is applied, but rather it is absorbed into runoff, entering groundwater, lakes, and streams where it can contaminate the water, impacting soil, crops, other vegetables, wildlife, livestock, and pets. Radium spread this way will remain in the environment for decades. The half-life of radium is 1,600 years.
In a letter to Governor John Kasich of Ohio, 24 local community, environmental and public health organizations expressed outrage that the state is allowing companies to profit by mixing oil/gas waste into a product that is sold to the public and that the state legislature is considering legislation that would further this practice. The letter asked the governor to “…halt this unnecessary and potentially deadly practice of spreading oil and gas waste, so-called ‘brine,’ on Ohio roads and stop the marketing of radioactive waste to an unsuspecting public.” CHEJ’s science staff reviewed the state’s testing results and provided a scientific analysis that is attached to the letter to the governor. The governor has yet to respond.
There is no reason to allow this practice to continue. The risks to public health and the environment are clear and easily avoidable. The state of Ohio would be derelict in its duty to protect public health and the environment if it allows this practice to continue. While several states (IL, MI, PA, and WV) also allow the spreading of fracking waste in deicer mixtures, the state of PA was recently changed its opinion and no longer allows this practice. We’ll see what Ohio decides

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