Will Ohio's Landfills Become a Dumping Ground for Radioactive Fracking Waste?
Don't turn Ohio's landfills into a dumping ground for radioactive waste from the oil and gas industry.
That's the message environmental groups hope will resonate with state lawmakers as they consider whether to approve a controversial proposal by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) to allow the disposal in Ohio landfills of radioactive-laced drill cuttings from deep-shale oil and gas drilling in Ohio and nearby states.
"If passed, this proposed law would put a big, trashed-out 'Statue of Radioactive Liberty' on Ohio's eastern border. It would proclaim to the oil and gas industry, 'Bring us your spent, cast-off, radioactive waste. It's welcome in Ohio,'" said Jack Shaner, deputy director of the Ohio Environmental Council.
Under the ODNR proposal, drill cuttings and brine could be classified by the state as naturally occurring radioactive materials, or NORM. Such materials would not be required to be tested for radioactivity and could remain on site at a horizontal-drilling well pad or could be shipped for disposal in any of Ohio's 39 licensed municipal solid waste landfills.
Meanwhile, waste materials classified by the state as technologically-enhanced naturally occurring radioactive materials, or TENORM—such as drilling muds—could also be disposed of in a solid waste landfill if it contains less than five pico curries per gram of radioactive content.
Even more concerning, if the material tests high, over the five pico curries threshold, it could be mixed or "down blended" with soil, sawdust, automobile salvage yard "fluff" or other materials to dilute the radioactive content for disposal.
"If the shale gas wastes are 'properly' disposed of, they are going to swamp the handful of existing, federally-approved low-level radioactive waste disposal facilities. This is why the industry and supporting politicians are dodging that classification as quickly as they can" said Dr. Julie Weatherington-Rice, scientific advisor to the Ohio Environmental Council.
Drill cuttings are the broken bits of solid material removed from the borehole of an oil and gas well left over after drilling through rock and soil. Naturally occurring radioactive materials, especially radium and uranium, occur in the same horizontal zone of shale rock that contains oil and gas deposits. Horizontal drilling for shale-gas and oil is underway in the Marcellus and Utica shale rock formations that lie beneath parts of Michigan, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia.
The provision was included in the new state operating budget proposed by Gov. John Kasich's administration earlier this year. The Ohio House of Representatives removed the proposal when it passed its version of the bill last month. House leaders said the provision should be considered in a separate, "stand-alone" bill to allow more time for study and debate.
The Ohio Senate soon must chose whether to accept, reject or modify the proposal as it ramps up to a June 5 vote on its version of the budget. A final compromise budget must be reached by the House and Senate and approved by Gov. Kasich by June 30.
"Radioactive waste has no place in our landfills, and it certainly has no place in a budget bill," said Jed Thorp, Conservation Program Manager of the Ohio Sierra Club. "The only way natural gas can compete with energy efficiency and renewable energy is if the industry can cheaply dispose of tons of radioactive waste."
Environmentalists warn the provision is fatally flawed because it fails to account for the basic fact that radium and uranium are highly soluble in water and eventually will leach into the landfill's water collection system and trucked to a municipal wastewater treatment plant.
They also contend the amendment would undermine the good intent of a separate law change proposed by ODNR to effectively prohibit the discharge to a river of fracking wastewater or "brine" from oil and gas wells that has been treated in a wastewater treatment plant. The Kasich administration has been trying to shut down such an operation in Warren, Ohio.
The environmental groups contend that, as rainwater percolates through a landfill, radioactive constituents will separate from the materials with which they have been mixed and become part of the landfill's liquid leachate material. As such, the once-diluted radioactive material will revert to its original state, exceeding the federal limit of five pico curries per gram of material.
Landfill operators typically collect the leachate and transport it to a municipal wastewater treatment plant for treatment. Because dissolved radium and uranium cannot effectively be removed from water during the wastewater treatment process, this radioactive material eventually will be discharged in "treated" water and into area rivers.
The OEC and Sierra Club also point out that:
- Any radioactive materials disposed in a landfill will continue to decay for thousands of years, long after a landfill closes and its 30-year period of post-closure care and bonding ends.
- Drill cuttings from the zone of shale rock formations richest in oil and gas reserves also are the "hottest" zone for radioactive materials.
- Existing monitoring equipment and techniques used at landfills and wastewater treatment plants are likely not adequate to reliably detect low levels of radioactivity.
- Even if during "down-blending" the radioactive elements somehow chemically bonded with other waste material, radium would continue to decay to radon gas and enter the landfill's gas collection system. Because radon is a noble gas, flaring or burning it with other gases would not destroy it. Instead, it simply would escape into the air. Radon is heavier than air and settles in low-lying areas.
- The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency regulations define radioactive material that contains between 5 and 10,000 pico curries per gram of material as "low-level radioactive waste"—LLRW. Federal regulations require disposal of LLRW in licensed disposal facilities that are engineered to safely contain the waste. Licensed LLRW landfills exist in Texas, Utah and Washington. None of Ohio's existing solid waste or construction demolition and debris landfills meet the federal minimum siting and design criteria for LLRW.
- Wastewater brine and solid drill cuttings from shale gas drilling may be a new growth industry for the waste disposal industry. These wastes are streaming into Ohio by road and rail and soon by river barge at an Ohio river port in Washington County. In addition, an injection well for out-of-state waste is being developed in Athens County. More than half—52 percent—of the oil and gas brine injected in Ohio's class-2 injection wells in 2012 came from out of state, mostly from Pennsylvania and West Virginia.
- Some municipal solid waste landfills have a checkered history of accepting unapproved materials for disposal, poor management and infrequent inspections. This raises serious concerns about the propriety of trusting the safe disposal of radioactive waste to these facilities.
- The oil and gas industry is eager to externalize the cost of disposal of its toxic byproducts as cheaply as possible to keep production prices low.
- Energy efficiency and wind and solar energy technologies and production do not leave a radioactive waste stream.
"Lawmakers should drop this amendment like a radioactive-hot potato. At a minimum, they should put it in a separate bill so that it can get the kind of careful study and scientific inquiry that is just not practical as part of a 4,509-page budget bill debate that must be decided in the next seven weeks," said Thorp.
"Dilution is not the solution to pollution, especially when it comes to radioactive-laced trash that will continue to decay for thousands of years," said Shaner.
Visit EcoWatch’s FRACKING page for more related news on this topic.
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By Zahida Sherman
Cooking has always intimidated me. As a child, I would anxiously peer into the kitchen as my mother prepared Christmas dinner for our family.
Falling in Love With Food All Over Again<p>Slowly, through my most intimate relationships with friends and partners, I began to see the beauty — and rewards — of cooking.</p><p>I got tired of giving in to defeat and always bringing chips or paper products to social gatherings. I started asking my mom to send me her Christmas and Thanksgiving recipes. I even volunteered to host Thanksgiving dinner at my place.</p><p>Each time I heard my loved ones sing the praises of the foods I prepared for them, I felt a tinge more confident that I could carry out our traditions my way.</p><p>In reaching out to other relatives for their favorite recipes, I learned that they had a little help of their own. They didn't rely solely on their ancestral cooking instincts. They turned to Black chefs for guidance.</p><p>These 7 cookbooks by Black chefs have inspired my family and fed us in nutrients, joy, and spiritual sustenance. They're also helping me overcome my personal fears of cooking.</p>
Get CookingWhether you're in recovery from cooking fears like me, or are just looking to expand your culinary confidence with dishes honoring Black heritage, these Black chefs are here to support you on your journey.Turn on some music, give yourself permission to make mistakes, and throw down for yourself or your loved ones. Glorious flavors await you.
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By Tara Lohan
The conclusion to decades of work to remove a dam on the Middle Fork Nooksack River east of Bellingham, Washington began with a bang yesterday as crews breached the dam with a carefully planned detonation. This explosive denouement is also a beginning.
The History<p>The Middle Fork Nooksack drains glacier-fed headwater streams that run off the icy summit of 10,778-foot Mt. Baker. The Middle Fork joins the North Fork and then the mainstem of the Nooksack River, which travels to Bellingham Bay and Puget Sound. The entire Nooksack watershed stretches 830 square miles across Washington and into British Columbia.</p>
A Plan Comes Together<p>The Middle Fork dam is not a pool dam built for water storage. Much of the time, water flows over the top until dam operators drop a floodgate to divert water to new locations. That water travels about 14 miles through tunnel and pipeline to Mirror Lake, then Anderson Creek, and to Lake Whatcom before finally being delivered to residents' taps.</p><p>Before removing the dam, engineers had to move the water intake 700 feet upstream and situate it at an elevation that still enabled city water withdrawals throughout the year, regardless of flow conditions.</p><p>They also needed to make sure that the rushing water didn't sweep up fish and accidentally send them through the water-supply system.</p><p>"The solution required a fairly complex design in the intake structure, including a fish exit pipe out of that structure to put fish back into the river in a way that meets current environmental permit standards," explains LaCroix.</p>
Project layout for the removal of the Middle Fork Nooksack diversion dam and rebuilding of water intake. City of Bellingham<p>Despite the cost and the work, she says, being able to continue to meet their municipal water obligations while opening up habitat for threatened species has been a win-win.</p><p>"I think there's a lot of benefits to having a dam removal versus fish passage — the main one being that you get a free-flowing river that can be a dynamic ecosystem and change over time," she says. "A static fish ladder just can't provide that same level of ecosystem benefit."</p>
Restoration Success<p>Despite local authorities' championing dam removal on the Middle Fork, the project has largely flown under the radar, overshadowed in the Pacific Northwest by heated discussions about a much larger potential project — removing <a href="https://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/feds-reject-removal-of-4-snake-river-dams-in-key-report/" target="_blank">four federal hydroelectric dams on the lower Snake River</a>, a major tributary of the Columbia River.</p><p>Proponents of dam removal there see it as the best chance for recovering threatened salmon populations, including Chinook, which could help starving Southern Resident killer whales. Those dams also provide irrigation water, barge navigation and hydropower, so there's been more pushback against removal efforts.</p><p>Previous dam removals around the country, however, have proved successful at aiding fish recovery and river restoration.</p><p>Most notably the 1999 demolition of <a href="https://therevelator.org/edwards-dam-removal/" target="_blank">Edwards Dam on Maine's Kennebec River</a> restored the annual run of alewives, a type of herring essential to the food web. The fish run has gone from zero to 5 million in the two decades since dam removal. Blueback herring, striped bass, sturgeon and shad have also extended their reach. And the resurgence has brought back osprey, bald eagles and other wildlife, too.</p><p>The overwhelming success of river restoration on the Kennebec helped to spur a nationwide dam removal movement that's now seen 1,200 dams come down since 1999. Last year a record <a href="https://www.americanrivers.org/conservation-resource/a-record-26-states-removed-dams-in-2019/" target="_blank">90 dams</a> were removed in 26 states, including <a href="https://therevelator.org/cleveland-forest-dam-removal/" target="_blank">20 dams in California's Cleveland National Forest</a>.</p>
Spider excavators remove on dam on San Juan Creek in California's Cleveland National Forest. Julie Donnell, USFS<p>The results have been seen in the Pacific Northwest, as well, which boasts the largest dam removal thus far in the country. In 2011 and 2014, the demolition of <a href="https://therevelator.org/elwha-dam-removal/" target="_blank">two dams</a> on Elwha River, which runs through Washington's Olympic National Park, opened up 70 miles of habitat that had been blocked for a century. Scientists have started seeing all five species of salmon native to the river coming back, particularly Chinook and coho. Bull trout, they've observed, have increased in size since the dams were removal.</p>
Benefits on the Middle Fork Nooksack<p>McEwan hopes to see a similar outcome on the Middle Fork.</p><p>Like the Elwha the Middle Fork Nooksack is a relatively pristine river with little development, and dam removal is expected to provide a big boost to fish. The additional miles of spawning habitat are important, but so is the temperature of that water.</p><p>The dam removal will open access to cold upstream waters, which are ideal for salmon and getting harder to come by as climate change warms waters and reduces mountain runoff.</p><p>"This is really great for the climate change resiliency for these species," says McEwan.</p><p>Steelhead will get back 45% of their historic habitat in the river, and scientists expect Chinook populations to increase in abundance by 31%.</p><p>That <em>could</em> help Southern Resident killer whales.</p><p>"When you get to the ocean, it's a little bit of a black box in terms of what you can model and say definitively is going to help, but more fish is better for orcas," McEwan says.</p><p>Upstream habitat will see benefits, too.</p><p>Oceangoing fish like salmon enrich their bodies with carbon and nitrogen while at sea. When they return to their natal rivers to spawn and die, the marine-derived nutrients they carry back upriver become important food and fertilizer for both riverine and terrestrial ecosystems — aiding everything from trees to birds to bears.</p><p>"Once the fish start making their way back, it will start changing the whole ecological system," says Delgado.</p><p><span></span>But any ecological benefit from salmon restoration, either in the ocean or the upper watershed, won't be immediate.<br></p><p>"The population of salmon on the Middle Fork is so low that we expect it's going to take quite a while to rebound," she says. "But the big picture is that what's good for salmon is good for the region — our history and our destiny are intricately intertwined."</p><p>After decades of work, that process of restoration has finally begun.</p>
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A new tool called The Food Systems Dashboard aims to save decision makers time and energy by painting a complete picture of a country's food system. Created by the Johns Hopkins' Alliance for a Healthier World, the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN), and the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the Dashboard compiles food systems data from over 35 sources and offers it as a public good.
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It can grow to a maximum of six inches (16 centimeters), change color depending on mood and habitat, and, like all seahorses, the White's seahorse male gestates its young. But this tiny snouted fish is under threat.
Building an Ocean Seahorse Destination<p>Seahorses are found in tropical and temperate coastal water worldwide, but are most abundant around Australia, China and the Philippines. </p><p>Trade in the tiny creatures is strictly regulated because of their use in traditional medicine, aquariums and their sale as dried curios. But because they are poor swimmers and cannot easily move elsewhere, habitat loss is a particular threat for these curious animals. </p><p>Seahorses wrap their tails around seagrass and corals to avoid being carried away on currents. They use the habitat to spawn and hide from predators such as crabs, while also feeding on riches of plankton and small crustaceans living in the reef.</p><p><span></span>Where corals aren't available, <a href="https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/aqc.1217" target="_blank">scientists</a> found seahorses taking up residence in fishing nets and old crab traps abandoned at the bottom of the ocean. </p>
Mixing With the Locals<p>Baby seahorse mortality is high in the wild because they are easily caught, so those bred in the protected environment of the aquarium weren't ready to be released into the wild until early May.</p><p>The team released 90 new arrivals into Sydney Harbor, placing some directly into the purpose-built hotels, and others onto a net that wild seahorses had already settled on.</p><p>Before setting them free, the researchers marked each young seahorse with a fluorescent tag with unique IDs inserted just beneath the skin to track how they get on in the different environments. </p><p>"The most exciting part was being able to put these animals into the wild and then go back a month later and still see them surviving and growing," said McCracken. </p><p>The seahorses will be old enough to mate and reproduce around October or November 2020. And researchers hope that by then, they will be able to breed with the wild population. </p>
Building a Global Seahorse Hotel Chain<p>With seahorses everywhere facing the loss of their coral reef homes, similar projects have sprung up in places like Greece and South Africa, home to the world's most endangered seahorse, the Knysna seahorse. </p><p>"The endangered South African seahorse is benefiting from something quite similar, even though it wasn't intentional," said Peter Teske, professor at the Department of Zoology, University of Johannesburg.</p><p>In the South African <a href="https://www.researchgate.net/publication/322649251_An_endangered_seahorse_selectively_chooses_an_artificial_structure" target="_blank">case</a>, seahorses have bedded down in "Reno mattresses" — wire cages filled with rocks — that were used to build a new marina. Researchers from NGO Knysna Basin Project found the structures acted as a refuge for the animals.<span></span></p><p><span></span>While Teske describes the seahorse hotels as "a positive news story" and a great way to create public awareness of conservation, he added that establishing artificial habitats in some areas will only prevent the extinction of local populations.</p><p>"For a complete recovery, it is necessary to give the natural habitat a chance to regenerate," said the seahorse expert. </p>
Underwater Mascot<p>In Australia, the researchers hope the project could provide an opportunity to raise awareness not only of the plight of the Sydney seahorses but the other animals with which it shares its ocean habitat.</p><p>The waters around Sydney and the east coast are rich in biodiversity and include several threatened species like the weedy seadragon — a relative of the seahorse — and the grey nurse shark. Like the seahorse, they're also under pressure from pollution, ocean traffic and habitat loss through storms and coastal construction. </p><p>"It's a good thing to get people's support and interest. The seahorses are a useful vehicle to get people concerned if the harbor is in trouble," said David Booth, professor of marine ecology at the University of Technology Sydney who is also working on the project. </p><p>The hotels have become an attraction for divers hoping to catch a glimpse of these small but near mythical creatures. </p><p>"Everyone loves seahorses," added Booth, "they are so popular." </p>
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