I’ve been thinking about why the EPA decided to raise the Protection Action Guidelines for radioactivity in drinking water to such high levels. My previous posts are here:
The Politics of Uranium in Drinking Water Part http://majiasblog.blogspot.com/2016/06/the-politics-of-uranium-in-drinking.html
EPA's Proposed New Protective Action Guidelines for Drinking Water (Post II): Radiation Risks Described by Japanese Physicist http://majiasblog.blogspot.com/2016/06/epas-proposed-new-protective-action.html
One explanation is that the EPA is simply accommodating an increasingly radioactive environment without resistance.
Although Fukushima no doubt raised radiation levels, there are plenty of other highly radiotoxic waste sites around the country that are contaminating drinking water with genotoxic radionuclides.
One growing source of radioactive contamination is fracking:
Valerie J. Brown, (February 2014). Radionuclides in Fracking Wastewater: Managing a Toxic Blend. Environmental Health Perpsectives 10.1289/ehp.122-A50. http://ehp.niehs.nih.gov/122-a50/ProPublica has a very good article about the lack of oversight of radioactive fracking waste, here published at Grist:
Radioactive drilling waste is a form of TENORM (short for “technologically enhanced naturally occurring radioactive material”)—that is, naturally occurring radioactive material (NORM) that has been concentrated or otherwise made more available for human exposure through anthropogenic means.2 Both the rapidity and the extent of the U.S. natural gas drilling boom have brought heightened scrutiny to the issues of radioactive exposure and waste management.
Jie Jenny Zou. June 20, 2016. Fracking produces tons of radioactive waste. What should we do with it? Grist/Cross Posted from Center for Public Integrity, http://grist.org/business-technology/fracking-produces-tons-of-radioactive-waste-what-should-we-do-with-it/What role does the onslaught of radioactive waste from fracking play in rising levels of radiation in drinking water?
Geologists have long known soil and rock contain naturally occurring radioactive materials that can become concentrated through activities like fracking, in which sand and chemicals are pumped thousands of feet underground to release oil and gas from tight rock. But concerns about fracking largely have focused on injection wells and seismic activity, with less attention paid to “hot” waste that arrives at landfills and sets off radiation alarms.
An analysis by the Center for Public Integrity shows that states are struggling to keep pace with this waste stream, relying largely on industry to self-report and self-regulate. States have also been slow to assess and curb risks from exposure to the waste, which can remain radioactive for millennia. Excessive radiation exposure can increase cancer risks; radon gas, for example, has been tied to lung cancer.
The four states in the Marcellus are taking different approaches to the problem; none has it under control.… Inconsistencies have raised concerns among regulators and activists that waste is being “shopped around” by companies seeking the path of least resistance, or unsafely reused.
How much radioactive waste is actually ending up in fracking wastewater? It seems that more contamination is occurring than initially thought because of problems with the methodology used to measure radioactivity.
Commonly used testing procedures fail to look at radionuclides produced from the RADIOACTIVE DECAY PROCESS. That is, common testing fails to address DAUGHTER PRODUCTS from isotopes found in fracking fluid such as Lead-210 and Polonium-210:
Valerie Brown. April 9, 2015. Study raises questions about measuring radioactivity in fracking wastewater http://www.sciencemag.org/news/2015/04/study-raises-questions-about-measuring-radioactivity-fracking-wastewater
Commonly used testing methods may underestimate the total radioactivity of wastewater produced by gas wells that use hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, to tap the Marcellus Shale, a geological formation in the northeastern United States, concludes a new study.
….Now, in a paper published online on 2 April in Environmental Health Perspectives, a team led by Nelson shows that radium-focused tests can significantly underestimate the total radioactivity of wastewater that is stored in closed containers, such as tanks. The researchers found the testing methods don’t fully measure radium’s daughter decay products, which can build up in the days and years after the briny waste reaches the surface. Radioactivity levels in stored wastewater can rise fivefold within 15 days, for example, and continue to rise for decades.HERE IS THE ORIGINAL STUDY
To undertake their study, the researchers obtained a sealed sample of Marcellus wastewater and then measured selected radioactive isotopes that appeared as radium decayed into daughter products. The half-lives, radioactivity, and chemistry of radium isotopes and their decay products vary considerably, the researchers note. For example, the half-life of radium-226 is 1600 years (meaning it takes that long for 50% of the total to decay). In contrast, lead-210’s half-life is 22.2 years, while polonium-210’s is 138.4 days. To calculate the total radioactivity of a sample over time, researchers must account for all of these daughter products.
At first, the researchers could barely detect the presence of many daughter isotopes, including polonium-210 and lead-210. Over time, however, the levels rose as the decay reactions took place and continued to rise for months….
…spills of fracking wastewater may pose some additional risk because it can carry radium-226 into ground water.
Andrew W. Nelson, Eric S. Eitrheim, Andrew W. Knight, Dustin May, Marinea A. Mehrhoff, Robert Shannon, Robert Litman, William C. Burnett, Tori Z. Forbes, and Michael K. Schultz (2015, July). Understanding the Radioactive Ingrowth and Decay of Naturally Occurring Radioactive Materials in the Environment: An Analysis of Produced Fluids from the Marcellus Shale. Environmental Health Perspectives, 123(7), http://ehp.niehs.nih.gov/1408855/UNFORTUNATELY, NO FEDERAL AGENCY REGULATES OIL and GAS DRILLING BYPRODUCTS and states, such as Colorado, are reluctant to “alienate” powerful energy interests (as illustrated recently by the Democratic Governor of Colorado’s decision to sign a law preventing local communities from banning fracking in their areas see here: http://energyindepth.org/mtn-states/colorado-gov-hickenlooper-rejects-ban-fracking-initiatives-again/):
Objective: We investigated the contribution to radioactivity concentrations from naturally occurring radioactive materials (NORM), including uranium, thorium, actinium, radium, lead, bismuth, and polonium isotopes, to the total radioactivity of hydraulic fracturing wastes.
Methods: For this study we used established methods and developed new methods designed to quantitate NORM of public health concern that may be enriched in complex brines from hydraulic fracturing wastes. Specifically, we examined the use of high-purity germanium gamma spectrometry and isotope dilution alpha spectrometry to quantitate NORM.
Results: We observed that radium decay products were initially absent from produced fluids due to differences in solubility. However, in systems closed to the release of gaseous radon, our model predicted that decay products will begin to ingrow immediately and (under these closed-system conditions) can contribute to an increase in the total radioactivity for more than 100 years.
Jie Jenny Zou. June 201, 2016. Fracking produces tons of radioactive waste. What should we do with it? Grist, grist.org/business-technology/fracking-produces-tons-of-radioactive-waste-what-should-we-do-with-it/In short, fracking waste waster is being disposed of without oversight and the waste contains radioactive isotopes whose decay products worsen radioactivity levels across time.
...But the rise of hydraulic fracturing over the past decade has created another boom: tons of radioactive materials experts call an “orphan” waste stream. No federal agency fully regulates oil and gas drilling byproducts — which include brine, sludge, rock, and soiled equipment — leaving tracking and handling to states that may be reluctant to alienate energy interests.
“Nobody can say how much of any type of waste is being produced, what it is, and where it’s ending up,” said Nadia Steinzor of the environmental group Earthworks, who cowrote a report on shale waste. (Earthworks has received funding from The Heinz Endowments, as has the Center for Public Integrity).
The group is among several suing the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to regulate drilling waste under a federal system that tracks hazardous materials from creation to final disposal, or “cradle to grave.” The EPA declined to comment on the lawsuit but is scheduled to file a response in court by early July.
This waste threatens drinking and agricultural water. In fact, allegations are being made that fracking waste water is routinely used to irrigate California agriculture:
Cole Mellino. February 10, 2016. California Farmers Irrigate Crops With Chevron’s Oil Wastewater in Drought-Stricken Central Valley, http://ecowatch.com/2016/02/10/farmers-irrigate-crops-oil-water/You can read Snopes' review here: http://www.snopes.com/fruits-irrigated-fracking-wastewater/
So, perhaps the EPA is raising allowable contamination in drinking water (during radiological emergencies) because we have entered a period wherein an increasing share of our fresh water is contaminated and becoming more so.
Perhaps we are in a permanent radioactive state of emergency, made legal and enduring by the EPA's de jure protective guidelines.
Rory Carroll (2015, April 3) Exclusive: California used 70 million gallons of water in fracking in 2014 (2015, April 3). Reuters, http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/04/03/us-california-drought-fracking-exclusive-idUSKBN0MU01M20150403
Center for Biological Diversity (2014, October 6 ). Documents Reveal Billions of Gallons of Oil Industry Wastewater Illegally Injected into Central California aquifers. http://www.biologicaldiversity.org/news/press_releases/2014/fracking-10-06-2014.html
Thomas, Madeleine (2014, October 10). Frackers are dumping toxic waste into California’s groundwater. Grist, http://grist.org/list/frackers-are-dumping-toxic-waste-into-californias-groundwater/
PROPUBLIC INVESTIGATION: [excerpted] A 2012 ProPublica investigation of more than 700,000 injection wells across the country found that wells were often poorly regulated and experienced high rates of failure, outcomes that were likely polluting underground water supplies that are supposed to be protected by federal law. That investigation also disclosed a little-known program overseen by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that exempted more than 1,000 other drinking water aquifers from any sort of pollution protection at all, many of them in California.
Abrahm LustgartenDec. 11, 2012, Poisoning the Well: How the Feds Let Industry Pollute the Nation’s Underground Water Supply ProPublica, http://www.propublica.org/article/poisoning-the-well-how-the-feds-let-industry-pollute-the-nations-undergroun