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Environmentalists question use of radioactive brine waste to treat roads – News – The Columbus Dispatch

Environmentalists question use of radioactive brine waste to treat roads – News – The Columbus Dispatch

Environmentalists are concerned that processed brine waste from oil and natural gas drilling could raise levels of radium — a radioactive metallic element found in the brine — in soil and groundwater. [File photo]

Posted Oct 23, 2019 at 4:48 PM
Updated at 5:48 AM

Processed brine waste from oil and natural gas drilling could raise levels of radium — a radioactive metallic element found in the brine — in soil and groundwater when spread on winter roads, environmentalists warn.

As temperatures continue to dip, it will be only a matter of time before road crews across the state head out in the wee hours to pre-treat roads for snow and ice.

Many will use processed brine waste from oil and natural gas drilling. That concerns environmentalists, who say the practice could raise levels of radium — a radioactive metallic element found in the brine — in soil and groundwater from runoff that could take up to 1,600 years to decay.

“This is just not something that should be spread around our communities haphazardly. It needs to be stopped, period. If you can’t find something better to do with this waste, then stop producing it,” said Teresa Mills, a member of the Buckeye Environmental Network, a nonprofit environmental-justice group.

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Radium-226 and radium-228, both found in brine waste, are known carcinogens and can lead to bone, liver, and breast cancer in humans if levels are high enough, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Ohio law allows only brine produced from vertical, or conventional, wells to be spread as a de-icer.

“The (Ohio Department of Natural Resources Division of Oil & Gas Resources Management) has collected brine samples from both brine hauler trucks and wells. These samples are helping the division to establish baseline radiological data on naturally occurring radioactive material in produced brine from different geological formations,” said ODNR spokesman Adam Schroeder.

Data from state testing shows that in at least one case there were 9,602 picocuries per liter for combined amounts of radium-226 and radium-228. The lowest level was 66.

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Environmentalists note that Ohio law allows no more than 0.005 picocuries of radium per liter of oil and gas fracking waste to be placed in landfills in the state. Yet state law allows for processed brine waste to be spread on Ohio’s roadways without a cap on its radiation levels because the state claims it is a naturally occurring byproduct.

“Recent models from both the Ohio Department of Health and the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection show that controlled application of brine containing naturally occurring radioactive material offers a negligible risk to human health,” Schroeder said.

Chris Tavenor, staff attorney at the Ohio Environmental Council, said current law protects Ohioans from toxic brine waste.

“The products used today should be considered safe and not a risk to the public. Current Ohio law contains a cradle-to-grave approach in managing brine produced by oil and gas operations; meaning, brine waste products are monitored from point of origin to point of disposal,” he said.

Dustin May, a graduate researcher in human toxicology at the University of Iowa, cautioned that studies are limited.

“There is the possibility that radium, as well as other components contained in this brine, could build up in the surrounding soils, but there is no evidence I am aware of that the accumulation of radium is occurring in the environment at harmful levels from this practice,” he said.

However, May said, brine waste material “still needs to be disposed and/or treated … responsibly, especially due to the fact that it is aqueous in nature and can spread more easily through the environment than a solid material is able. … Fully concentrated, some of this brine would likely exceed this limit, unless it was blended with other solids containing less radioactivity.”

David Mansbery is the owner of a company in Brecksville in northeastern Ohio, that uses brine waste in a de-icing product known as AquaSalina. The product, which is featured on the Lowe’s website, touts the product as 70% less corrosive than rock salt and safe for the environment and pets.

The AquaSalina website describes it as “a natural saltwater solution produced from ancient seas dating back to the Silurian age almost 425 million years ago.”

“We process and recycle and repurpose conventional brine through an extensive process to produce a clean commodity,” Mansbery told The Dispatch in an email.

But John Stolz, a professor at Duquesne University’s Bayer School of Environmental and Natural Sciences who has tested AquaSalina for radium concentration, said, “It’s got a little over 1,100 of total radium picocuries per liter,” he said.

Mansbery says the levels are low.

“We add a plant-based product as a corrosion inhibitor so dilution is a likely factor in the final product, thus reducing the already small levels,” he said.

In 2018, the Ohio Department of Transportation used a total of 14.1 million gallons of liquid de-icers, ODOT press secretary Matt Bruning said.

“Of that, 797,000 gallons was AquaSalina. The vast majority, nearly 11 million gallons, is simply brine, which we mix in-house using rock salt and water,” Bruning said in an email. “AquaSalina is only used in extremely cold temperatures when pavement temperatures dip into single digits or lower.” (The department also uses calcium-chloride and a beet juice solution in sub-zero temperatures.)

But Stolz and others say the waste builds up and stays in the environment, potentially contaminating groundwater.

“This is a problem. And, more to the point, we don’t have to do it, and we shouldn’t be doing it,” Stolz said.

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Source:  Columbus Dispatch

By:  Beth Burger

LINK:  https://www.dispatch.com/news/20191023/environmentalists-question-use-of-radioactive-brine-waste-to-treat-roads

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