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Serious questions about radioactive element in highway de-icer

Serious questions about radioactive element in highway de-icer
CINCINNATI (WKRC) – Environmentalists and some scientists are raising serious questions about a de-icer that Ohio’s road crews are spraying on our highways.

The product is AquaSalina. Consumers probably haven’t heard of it because it’s not commercially available. But last winter alone, hundreds of thousands of gallons of this de-icer was sprayed on our highways.

A state report found the de-icer contains radium, a radioactive element that, at high levels, has been linked to cancer.

The company that makes AquaSalina says the product is safe. The state claims the risk to the public is “negligible.” Some scientists and environmentalists disagree.

The Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) tested AquaSalina for radioactivity and, in June and July of 2017, issued reports finding, on average, AquaSalina contains radium levels at 300 times higher than the federal standard for safe drinking water.

The reports also stated that AquaSalina “exceeds” Ohio’s limit for discharge to the environment.

David Mansbery, the owner of Nature’s Own Source, LLC, the company that makes AquaSalina, not only claims the ODNR report is wrong, he says his company conducted its own tests and sent a new report to the state.

“We have submitted it through our attorneys to the ODNR,” Mansbery told Local 12.

Ancient seawater

Mansbery said the main ingredient in AquaSalina is what the label says it is: “It’s ancient seawater.”

That ancient seawater comes from deep under gas and oil fields owned by Mansbery’s other company, Duck Creek Energy, an oil and gas drilling company based in Brecksville, Ohio.

In its raw, untreated form, it’s called brine. For years, brine has been a regulated waste.

“If I put our brine down on the road, which would be in a raw and untreated format, I’d likely end up in jail,” Mansbery said.

But Mansbery’s company filters the brine at plants in the Cleveland area, removing the impurities, then sells it as AquaSalina.

ODOT use

Mansbery told Local 12 one of his biggest clients is the Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT).

From September 2017 to January 2018, ODOT sprayed more than a half-million gallons of AquaSalina as de-icer on Ohio highways on extremely cold days.

Teresa Mills, executive director of the Buckeye Environmental Network, says the state of Ohio is creating radioactive roads.

“It is not safe,” Mills told Local 12. “There will be a constant buildup of radioactive materials on our roads, on the side of our roads, potentially running into our streams, and it’s going to affect human beings.”

In the heart of Pittsburgh at Duquesne University, one scientist has emerged as the leader in raising the alarm about radioactive roads. Dr. John Stolz is the director of the Center for Environmental Research and Education at Duquesne.

During Local 12’s visit to his lab, Dr. Stolz placed a Geiger counter above a jug of AquaSalina. The needle moved to the right, indicating radioactivity.

“Oh, I’m telling you this stuff is a nightmare,” Stolz said.

He says AquaSalina — or any brine from oil and gas fields — should not be spread on our roads.

“And the reason again is because anything it touches potentially becomes contaminated,” Stolz told Local 12.


So why is Ohio using AquaSalina?

After weeks of asking that key question in more than three dozen calls and emails and getting no answers, Local 12 Investigations submitted a public records request to ODNR and received a pile of documents that included a state report from March 19 of 2018.

That report reveals the Ohio Department of Health conducted a residual radiation, or RESRAD model, to determine the effects of those high levels of radium in AquaSalina on anyone driving over it.

It found the dose of radiation for one application of AquaSalina is .6 millirem. That’s more than the .5 millirem dose of radiation when you get an X-ray at the dentist, and that exposure is multiplied every time AquaSalina is applied to the road.

Still, the report concludes AquaSalina “poses a negligible radiological health risk to public health and safety.”

Mansbery says he soaks his feet in AquaSalina.

“At times I do, yes,” he said. “When they’re sore.”

But the Duquesne lab, the radioactivity in that jug of AquaSalina is high enough that Stolz said he’s required to report it as hazardous.

It’s important to note that AquaSalina is sprayed on highways — mostly north of Cincinnati — and only when it’s extremely cold, so it’s just a fraction of the total brine laid down on Ohio highways.

Both ODOT and ODNR emailed Local 12 statements that lay out in detail why they say AquaSalina does not pose a risk to the public:

ODOT statement on AquaSalina:

ODNR statement on AquaSalina:


Source:  Local 12 – Cincinnati

By:  Duane Pohlman & Stephanie Kuzydym, WKRC



With sub-zero temperatures in recent weeks, ODOT road crews were using increasing amounts of AquaSalina deicers, spreading 621,000 gallons over the past five months.

Radioactive road deicer rules under review by Ohio legislature; debate over public safety continues


CLEVELAND, Ohio – Ohio Department of Transportation snowplows had been spreading AquaSalina, a deicing solution, on the state’s roadways for years when an environmental group last year obtained an unreleased Ohio Department of Natural Resources report that found high levels of radioactivity in the product.

After the 2017 report became public, state government and company officials attempted to debunk it, criticizing the testing protocol and findings as flawed and “worthless.”

A team of scientists from ODNR’s division of Oil and Gas Resources Management/Radiation Safety Section, and the Environmental Safety Section compiled the seven-page report. The team tested 14 samples of AquaSalina from six locations in Cuyahoga, Summit, Tuscarawas and Guernsey counties.

All of the samples were found to contain elevated levels of radioactivity in excess of state limits on the discharge of radioactive materials. The average radioactivity in AquaSalina also exceeded the drinking water limits for Radium 226 and Radium 228 by a factor of 300. Human consumption of any amount of AquaSalina is highly discouraged, the report said.

“Heavy metals and radiologicals accumulate in the soil and become problematic for drinking water,” said Trish Demeter, the Ohio Environmental Council vice president of Policy, Energy. “They don’t just go away. The more you use deicers the more these toxins build up over a long period of time.”

But the team also determined it was unlikely that radiation exposure from spreading AquaSalina on roadways exceeded human dosage limits.

Members of the state legislature rejected the reports’ findings, introducing a law last year that would ease regulations on AquaSalina, treating it as a commodity rather than toxic waste derived from oil- and gas-drilling operations. The law would also prevent ODNR from imposing any additional requirements.

Additionally, the bill would require testing of AquaSalina no more than four times per year and would not require ODNR to test the brine for radium or heavy metals.

“Nobody has any intentions to hurt the environment or dirty up the water and the air,” said State Senator Matt Dolan of Chagrin Falls, who sponsored the bill in the senate.

“This company discovered how to take raw brine and convert it to a product that can be used safely on our roads and driveways with less corrosion than salt,” Dolan said.

After the release of the ODNR report, however, one of the bill’s original co-sponsors, former State Senator Mike Skindell, Democrat from Lakewood, retracted his sponsorship. Now a state representative, Skindell did not return several phone calls and emails seeking comment.

State Rep. Fred Strahorn of Dayton, the House Minority Leader, issued a scathing response to the bill.

“This brine is chemical, industrial waste, and according to ODNR’s own study poses a risk to our health and our environment,” said Strahorn, who led the Democratic opposition to the bill. “Without any safeguards on the use of this product the consequences could be severe.”

Chronic exposure to radium or radon gas can result in increased cases of bone, liver, breast and lung cancer, according to testimony by the OEC.

In December, the house approved the brine law by a vote of 55-33. The legislative session ended, however, before the senate could vote. Both bills, which are identical, are expected to be reintroduced in a few weeks, Dolan said.

Current usage

AquaSalina is being used to deice roads by the Ohio Department of Transportation in 10 of the state’s 12 districts, but not in large quantities, said department spokesman Matt Bruning.

From Sept. 1, 2018, to Feb. 4, 2019, ODOT applied 621,336 gallons of AquaSalina, or about 7 percent of the 8.8 million gallons of deicers applied during that five-month period. Last winter, ODOT used 1 million gallons of AquaSalina , a fraction of the 10 million gallons of deicers used, Bruning said.

ODOT primarily applies rock salt and its own brine solution, derived from salt mixed with water, Bruning said. The agency decided to use AquaSalina in sub-zero temperatures after receiving the reports from ODNR and the Ohio Department of Health, each of which found radium in AquaSalina, but determined it was unlikely that exposure to the radioactive solution would exceed state standards.

ODOT also considered the approval of AquaSalina by the Pacific Northwest Snowfighters, an association dedicated to ensuring the safety of deicing products through testing and evaluation, Bruning said.

From ‘ancient sea water’ to de-icer

Since 2004, AquaSalina has been produced by a Brecksville-based company, Nature’s Own Source, which developed a process for recycling “400 million-year-old ancient sea water” into a deicing agent capable of clearing roads and parking lots at temperatures as low as -15 degrees.

AquaSalina is derived from reprocessed brine obtained from conventional vertical oil and gas wells, not horizontal shale wells, which produce a fracking brine that is prohibited by law from being spread on roadways. Fracking brine can contain toxic substances such as kerosene, benzene and hydrochloric acid.

At conventional wells, equipment operators capture the rising natural gas vapors in pipes and store the oil-brine water mixture in tanks, where the oil floats to the surface and the brine settles to the bottom. From there, the brine is drained from the tank and disposed of through underground injection wells or trucked to AquaSalina’s production facilities in Cleveland or Mogadore.

The product is filtered to remove volatile organic compounds and trace minerals.

One of ODNR test findings, however, was that the radiation in AquaSalina was higher than raw brine. It said Nature’s Own Source was producing Technologically Enhanced Naturally Occurring Radioactive Material, or TENORM.

Company owner Dave Mansbery said, “We don’t do anything to enhance or reduce any of the naturally occurring [radiation] in the product.”

Mansbery said ODNR has put him at a competitive disadvantage, imposing “regulatory burdens” that require users who apply the solution to roads and parking lots to be state-certified brine haulers.

“I’m just a small business owner who figured out how to take the dirty, oily raw brine water and process it to make a useful product rather than paying to have it dumped into an injection well,” Mansbery testified last year to the Ohio House.

ODNR has remained on the sidelines during the legislative debate and did not testify last year prior to the vote.

ODNR spokesman Steve Irwin told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, however, that, “The information contained in the [2017 ODNR] study has led us to pursue a continued assessment of the product.”

By moving forward with the brine bill, the legislature chose to reject both the 2017 ODNR report and the testimony of environmental groups, those opposed to the bill say.

“The 2017 report raises a ton of questions,” OEC’s Demeter said. “There’s no real understanding about the threat of this material. We need stringent testing protocols. What are the assurances for public safety and environmental protection?”

The OEC supports recycling brine water, but not at the expense of health and safety, Demeter said.

“If there is a safe and reliable method to recycle, let’s see it,” she said. “But we haven’t seen it yet.”

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