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TENORM Waste: A Regulatory and Disposal Guide

September 26, 2014


Do you belong to an industry that generates technologically-enhanced naturally occurring radioactive material (TENORM)? Hazardous Waste Experts understands the unique challenges and concerns associated with TENORM waste, as well as its complex regulatory environment. We have prepared this guide to help you make sense of TENORM, and to familiarize you with its regulatory and disposal issues.

TENORM: What It Is

TENORM is an acronym for Technologically Enhanced Naturally Occurring Radioactive Material resulting from human activity that has concentrated the radioactivity or increased the likelihood of exposure by making the radioactive material more accessible to human contact.

The occurrence of these naturally occurring radioactive materials varies throughout the world, and may be more or less likely given the types of rocks and minerals in a particular area. When resources, e.g., oil and natural gas, are extracted from the earth, the natural radioactive material comes with those resources. In processing the desired resource, the radioactive material is removed and becomes a TENORM waste.

TENORM Generation in the Oil & Gas Industry

To unlock vast reserves of oil and gas from rock far beneath our feet, oil and gas companies inject water mixed with sand and chemicals into shale rock formations. This fracturing process creates fissures that allow natural gas to flow back into the well, but also disturbs radioactive material from its natural setting. That radioactive material comes into contact with fluids and equipment. Once the oil or gas has eventually been extracted and processed, the enhanced radioactive material becomes a waste.

Oil and gas production TENORM waste streams include:

  • Pipe Scale
  • Produced waters/flow-back water
  • Sludge
  • Used water filtration sleeves (radioactive socks)
  • Contaminated Equipment

The Changing Regulatory Environment

TENORM waste is not currently regulated on the federal level, which leaves regulatory responsibility to individual states. While TENORM waste has gone largely unnoticed until recently, the use of fracking technology and the resulting “fracking boom” has put it back on the radar. As a result, the regulatory climate regarding TENORM waste is changing quickly.

Some states already have specific legislature in place regarding TENORM, while others believe it is sufficiently covered by their standard rules on radiation. However, in many states the media, public, and health/waste management officials are discovering that the current regulations may be insufficient to protect both the public and environment from improper TENORM waste management. These states are now requesting further study.

In March, West Virginia lawmakers voted to both install radiation detectors at landfills and to require that drilling debris be contained in separate, lined cells. This law doesn’t take effect until early next year, but a spokeswoman for the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection recently stated that the agency was in the process of drafting an emergency rule that could bump up the effective date to June.Many states are also recognizing a need to strengthen current legislature. Following some highly publicized illegal dumping of radioactive filter socks, North Dakota succumbed to mounting public pressure and instituted waste regulations designed to enhance the state’s capacity to track the generation, storage, transportation and disposal of TENORM waste. Beginning June 1, 2014, North Dakota has specified that oil and gas disposal wells will be required to have leak-proof, covered containers designated for disposal of radioactive filter socks. In addition, the transportation of TENORM waste in the state now requires the transporter to have a radioactive transportation license. North Dakota is also proposing regulations that would require Certificates of Destruction documentation for TENORM waste, as well as waste reporting on a per-site basis.

Pennsylvania also requires radiation testing at landfills, and the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection launched a study last year to examine radiation associated with oil and gas development that is anticipated to shape regulation moving forward. Ohio requires that oil and gas drilling TENORM waste, other than flow backwater, be tested before leaving the well to determine the concentration of radium-226 and -228.

Although different states are making changes in different ways, there are some consistencies across the board: regulations are only becoming more restrictive, state agencies more watchful, and employees and consumers more mindful. The need for compliance and proper cradle-to-grave disposal with Certificates of Destruction documentation will become a critical component of future oil and gas production legislation.

Non Cradle-to-Grave Disposal

Many of these regulatory changes either haven’t yet gone into effect, or are still being drafted. Much of the legislation currently in effect is being ignored. Heightened scrutiny and regulatory changes, however, indicate that a true “cradle-to-grave” approach to TENORM waste (meaning the waste is tracked and documented from the time it becomes a waste and that ownership remains with the generator forever) is essential in avoiding liability.

Non cradle-to-grave disposal techniques are commonplace, but companies will soon be forced to pull this issue from the backburner. As states begin to take this issue more seriously, things like not receiving Certificates of Destruction or having accountability of where your waste ended up will no longer be acceptable.

The Harm of Improper Disposal

In some cases, improper disposal has led to soil and groundwater contamination and unnecessary public exposure, either by airborne releases or direct exposure. Elevated exposure to radiation is dangerous; it can cause cancer, gene mutations and – though much less likely – burns and radiation sickness. TENORM waste must be inhaled or ingested to pose a health risk, and lung cancer is the primary associated hazard. When proper disposal protocols are followed, however, this direct risk to public health is eliminated.When a company disposes of their TENORM waste improperly, the potential risks and complications are serious and widespread.

Improper disposal makes potential health risks a reality not just for the unassuming public, but for well-informed and protected workers as well. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) identified TENORM as an occupational health risk on oil and gas well sites, though it’s noted that safe and proper disposal is one of several precautionary steps that can significantly lower that risk.

Along with workers and the general public, the environment can also be negatively impacted by unnecessary, unintended exposure to radiation. Radiation exposure can result in genetic mutations and cellular damage in seeds, which can prevent them from germinating and sprouting. Animals and marine life are vulnerable in the same way that humans are.

But the list of parties eligible for suffering from improper disposal doesn’t end there – generators stand to hurt, too. Generators are responsible for their waste from the point of generation, including anything that occurs at any point during storage, handling, transport and disposal. Problems can have expensive consequences, ranging from additional inspection requirements and increased handling expenses to regulatory enforcement actions, public relations disasters and lawsuits.

How We Can Help

Dramatic regulatory changes and potential liability serve as a stern reminder that generators of TENORM waste need to swiftly get onboard with cradle-to-grave disposal. To stay on the right side of this issue, generators need to find the right disposal company for their needs.

Hazardous Waste Experts is the perfect partner. We can offer:

  • Comprehensive knowledge of state laws and regulations,
  • All necessary materials and packaging;
  • Transportation and disposal;
  • Waste-tracking and Certificates of Destruction,
  • Training services for your personnel;
  • Competitive pricing, and
  • Complete cooperation every step of the way.

Hazardous Waste Experts not only understands the unique challenges and concerns associated with TENORM waste – we can be your solution. Give us a call today at 800-936-2311 or click here to email us.

Photo Credit: mikesieber68 via Compfight cc

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