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Gas Drilling Waste Triggers Radioactive Alarms At Landfills

Waste from the state’s Marcellus Shale industry has been triggering radioactivity alarms at landfills, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
The article notes that last year nearly 1,000 trucks carrying 15,769 tons of gas drilling waste were stopped at Pennsylvania landfill gates after tripping the alarms:

The trucks were pulled to the side, wanded with hand-held detectors and some of the material was sent to laboratories for further evaluation. In the end, 622 tons were shipped to three out-of-state landfills specifically designed to dispose of hazardous and radioactive materials.
But most of the flagged waste was eventually allowed past the gates. It was safe enough to be buried along with other waste as long as it stays below the annual limit, the Department of Environmental Protection and landfill operators deemed.

However, the Post-Gazette points out that according to state figures, the alarms flagged only about one percent of all the Marcellus waste sent to landfills last year. Much of it is drill cuttings– the waste dirt and rock from drilling, which can contain naturally occurring radioactive materials (NORM).
Last spring, the DEP launched a year-long study to investigate NORM related to oil and gas drilling. The agency does not believe it poses a threat to human health.
The study is examining seven areas:

  • ambient air
  • drill cuttings
  • natural gas
  • natural gas processing pipes and equipment
  • waste water generated from drilling sites
  • sludge resulting from the processing of waste water from the well pad development process
  • landfill leachate

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