Sunday, April 20, 2008

The Radioactive Texans

Naturally occurring radioactive material - often referred to as NORM exist everywhere on the earth. Soil itself contains small amounts of slightly radioactive uranium and thorium. As these elements decay naturally, they produce radioactive daughter products including the radioactive gas radon. Not only do radioactive materials exist in the soil, they are also transmitted through the soil ito our bodies. People worry about radiation from nuclear sources, but the truth is that during our life time, people 80% of the radiation we will be exposed to will come from natural sources. Most of the rest of it will come from deliberate human use of radiation, for examples x-rays.

Plants draw radioactive isotopes into their organic structure, ands concentrate them into their tissue. Among vegitable foods know to be exceptionally radioactive are white potatoes, sweet potato, coconuts, spinach, bananas, Brazil nuts, and cocoa powder - a major ingredient in chocolate.

But the radiation danger associated with food does not end in your grocery bag. The natural gas you cook with also contains radioactive radon gas. And this brings me to the topic of the gas from Barnett Shale, that comes from under Fort Worth, Texas.

Shale containes small but significant concentrations of radioactive uranium and thorium. This would most certainly be the case with Barnett Shale. Natural gas is extracted from Barnett shale by hydrolic cracking. As water is injected into natural gas wells a tiny amount of radioactive materials including uranium, and radium get leached into the water. Some of the water inevitably enters the ground water, and the contamination spreads. Sometimes it reaches the surface through water recovery, wells or springs. This is one source of radiation hazard associated with natural gas extraction from Barnett Shale. According to the Denton Record-Chronical, there are 140 radiation cleanup sites in Texas, most involving radioactive materials from natural sources. (see also stories here, here, and here.) Twenty five of those radiation clean up sites are were in Denton, Tarrant, and Wise Counties, areas where gas is extracted from Barnett shale. Radioactive contaminated sites include gas wells and equiptment storage yards. A thousand barrels or radioactive contaminants have been removed from cleanup sites in North Texas, and hundreds of thousands ao barrels of radioactive materials associated with oil and gas radiation cleanup, have been removed from sites in Texas, during the last 20 years.

Gas drilling at D/FW Airport
There is another side to the story which Peggy Heinkel-Wolfe did not touchon in her Denton Record-Chronical stories on Barnett Shale radiation. That is the presence of radon in natural gas. During the 1970's my father, C.J. Baron , Sr., performed an extensive investigation of radon in natural gas. The noted, "since radon has a 3.8-day half-life and several days may be required to move the gas from the wells to the point or use there can be a significant drop in radon concentration during transmission." Thus consumers are partially protected from Radon in their cooking and heating gas, by the gas transmission process.

It was pretty clear from my father's research, that radioactive radon could get into consumer's homes through natural gas, and that the chief barrier that protected consumers was distance. But what if the consumers lived next to the gas wells? It would be clear that given the radiation cleanup problems associated with NORM . Who is in charge of determining the radon content of natural gas in Texas? PEGGY HEINKEL-WOLFE stated, "Texas Railroad Commission rules allow the industry to self-monitor for NORM . . ." How much monitoring do Texas gas suppliers do for radon in natural gas? This cannot be determined by an internet search. Indeed I can find no reference to the topic on the internet.

We know thes things:

There are undoubtedly uranium and thorium associated with Barnett Shale.

Radon is a natural daughter product of Uranium and Thorium decay.

Radon is persent in natural gas.

The half life of radon-222 is 3.8 days.

Thus radon from Barnett shale sources could easily travel up a gas well from its Barnett Shale source, travel through local pipe lines, and get consumed in cooking in heating fires within a few hours. Radon exposure is the second leading cause of lung cancer in the United States. Iowa research has shown that "cumulative radon exposure is a significant risk factor for lung cancer in women". "Radon gas is thought to be responsible for 5,000 to 20,000 lung cancer deaths per year in the United States". Thus radioactive radon gas, transported to North Texas homes, from Barnett Shale gas wells, almost next door, constitutes a significant ganger to the health of North Texans. Needless to say, this problem is being ignored gas companies, the governments of Texas, and the United States. Interestingly, it is also being ignored by critics of nuclear power who complain about the radiation dangers of nuclear power, but are unconcerned about the radiation associated with natural gas. How much is radon from natural gas effecting the health of Texans? No one knows.

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