Ohioans were horrified to hear news stories about the spill of toxic material into the Ohio River from a West Virginia coal company. Some of our neighbors to the southeast still cannot drink their water. What most Ohioans have not heard about is the intentional dumping of 20,000 gallons of radioactive and toxic fracking waste water into Ohio’s Mahoning River. Three tanker trucks full of so-called “brine” were deliberately pumped into a storm drain leading into the Mahoning on Thursday, January 31, 2013. More than a year later, it is still not clear exactly what chemicals the illegally disposed of waste contained.
The presence of radioactivity in the fracking waste could potentially keep Ohioans from drinking water in areas near the Mahoning River for thousands of years. Documents obtained by the Free Press indicate that the Ohio Department of Health (ODH) may be misleading the public regarding the severity of the illegal dumping. The environmental group Stark County Concerned Citizens calls the methods being used to test for radioactivity by the ODH “malicious compliance.” ODH testing methods may be a deliberate attempt to mislead the public as to the actual elevated levels of radioactivity threatening people living in fracking areas.
Fracking radioactivity is the new “Mobile Chernobyl”
Environmental scientists and health care providers in New York state outlined seven basic ways radioactivity is a threat from fracking:
* Horizontal hydrofracking in Marcellus shale will bring to the surface significant amounts of radioactive wastewater (in the form of both flowback fluid and production brine that flows out of wells during gas production)
* Processing radioactive chemical laden wastewater through water treatment plants will increase contaminant loads of downstream surface waters
* Radioactive sludge from drilling sites or POTWs will contaminate landfills
* Vehicles transporting radioactive chemical laden waste (liquid or solid) increase the risk of human exposure and/or contamination of the environment in the event of accidents
* Spreading radioactive, chemical laden wastewater on roads will expose drivers, passengers and pedestrians, and contaminate nearby surface water, land and agricultural fields
* Storage of radioactive, chemical laden wastewater in closed containment tanks can result in groundwater and surface water contamination
* Natural gas from Marcellus shale contains high levels of radon.
Exposure to high levels of radium can cause anemia, teeth problems, cataracts and increased risk of bone, liver and breast cancer, according to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. Dr. Larysa Dyrszka, a medical doctor from New York who has studied the impact of fracking on public health in that state recently spoke in Columbus about the health risks of fracking. She concluded that “Community and environmental impacts from the public health perspective need attention, especially regarding radioactivity.”
Ohio regulatory agencies “not looking at that right now”
Ohio environmentalists are concerned that the limited testing by Ohio regulatory agencies is not designed to disclose the actual levels of radioactive contamination in fracking waste. Radium 226, commonly present in fracking wastewater, predominantly emits alpha rays. The standard test for an alpha emitter is to isolate Radium 226 for 21 days to allow its so-called “gamma daughters” to disperse in order to get an accurate measurement of the radioactivity level.
For unexplained reasons, ODH documents reveal that tests on the fracking wastewater are using gamma spec methodology. This test design ensures lower levels of Radium 226 will be reported. The use of this methodology appears to be intentionally designed to under report the amount of radioactive contamination in Ohio.
Equally disturbing, when the Stark County Concerned Citizens recently asked the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (OEPA) for any final results on the illegal dumping in their area, the agency claimed that they had no final test results. The Ohio EPA appears not to have taken a sample large enough to analyze.
On January 30, 2014, Richard Bouder, OEPA Public Records Manager, responded to the Stark County Concerned Citizens with an email saying, “I found out that the only test results that we have here at Ohio EPA are the preliminary test results. We do not have the 21 day or final test results. For that information you would need to contact the Ohio Department of Health.” They turned then to the ODH, writing its radiation-protection division chief Michael Snee. One of the questions posed, but still unanswered, is whether or not the reported results from the gamma spec test method were still “…48 times exceeding the legal cutoff for Ohio’s 5 pico curie limit?”
The Stark County Concerned Citizens also asked the key question: “We request that the Ohio DH fully explain why your lab appears to have failed to nevertheless document the radium results that resulted from the 21-day hold that scientifically allowed for ingrowth/equilibrium of the gamma daughters. Instead, there appears to be only a blank space.” This missing number, presumably much higher than 48 times the legal limit, is the critical number needed to understand the level of radioactive contamination in the Mahoning River.
The ODH appears to have only taken one sample and is not reporting out any radium results from the standard 21 day hold test.
Despite repeated requests from the Stark County Concerned Citizens for the final test results on the illegal dumping, neither the OEPA, ODH nor ODNR have been forthcoming. Also suspicious, the ODH split its single sample with the private Summit Labs. Oddly, the Summit Labs failed to hold the radioactive sample for 21 days. Instead, they opened and analyzed it three times in that period, allowing radioactivity to escape.
The Free Press previously reported that the ODH’s Snee initially denied that fracking mud from Pennsylvania heading for Columbus landfills contained 896 pico curies of Radium 226. When confronted with his own lab test, he later acknowledged that the results were true. Snee seems to be adopting a standard tactic among Ohio bureaucrats – you don’t have to report the real numbers if you never do the test and put it in a public record.
This developing pattern is at the heart of the intentional dumping. The OEPA and the ODNR claim no final results or records of the radioactive contamination. And, the ODH has failed to produce any data needed to assess and protect the health of Ohioans.
Columbus Dispatch aids in the cover-up
The headline in a January 27, 2014 Columbus Dispatch article screamed “Ohio EPA, health officials dismiss radioactive threat from fracking.” The article reads: “Although it’s unknown how much radiation there is, there are some standards already in place. That’s why state officials say they have no plans for similar surveys or precautions… ‘We’re not looking at that right now,’ said Michael Snee, the Ohio Department of Health’s radiation-protection division chief.” The Dispatch fails to outline what standards or tests are actually in place in Ohio.
Meanwhile, other newspapers are reporting fracking disasters from other states. The AP and the Guardian (UK) reported that “Radioactive Waste Dumped by Oil Companies Is Seeping out of the Ground in North Dakota.” A report from Duke University stated that “Elevated levels of radioactivity, salts and metals have been found in river water and sediments at a site where treated water from oil and gas operations is discharged into a western Pennsylvania creek.”
“Radium levels were about 200 times greater” downstream than upstream from a fracking wastewater treatment plant, said Avner Vengosh, Professor of Geochemistry and water quality at Duke University’s Nicholas School of the Environment. A ten-page memo from the ODNR outlines their PR strategy to promote fracking in Ohio public land. The memo accuses “environmental-activists” of an “attempt to create public panic” on fracking risks. If reporting the facts from environmental scientists and health officials induces panic on the dangers of radioactivity and fracking – consider it done!