New fracking concern: radioactivity

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As if the whole idea of fracking in North Carolina wasn't already ridiculous (there's not as much natural gas under North Carolina as previously thought, according to U.S. Geological Survey) and a potential threat to the property rights of "uncooperative" North Carolina landowners, now we have radioactivity to worry about.

As reported by the Institute for Southern Studies, a new study by a group of scientists at Duke University found elevated levels of radioactivity, along with other pollutants, at a site where treated wastewater from fracking processes was discharged into a creek.

The scientists tested sediment samples from the area where the Josephine Brine Treatment Facility discharges treated wastewater into Blacklick Creek in Pennsylvania, as well as sediment samples from an area slightly upstream. What they found were radium levels about 200 times greater near the facility than in the upstream samples. The radioactivity levels were so high, in fact, that only a licensed radioactive waste facility could accept them for disposal. Radioactive materials are not uncommon in shale formations, which are fractured by chemicals and water during fracking. The radioactivity is the result of the decay of uranium and thorium, a common occurrence in shale rock. Exposure to high levels of radium leads to increased occurences of bone, liver and breast cancer.

"Although the facility's treatment process significantly reduced radium and barium levels in the wastewater, the amount of radioactivity that has accumulated in the river sediments still exceeds thresholds for safe disposal of radioactive materials," said Duke professor Avner Vengosh, one of the study's four authors. "[Disposal at the facility] has created potential environmental risks for thousands of years to come."

In North Carolina, the state Mining and Energy Commission is creating fracking regulations. The commission is loaded with fracking industry employees and supporters, such as the commission's Water and Waste Management Committee's Chairman Vikram Rao, who is former chief technology officer for fracking giant Halliburton. Rao has called for treating the wastewater from fracking operations and then discharging it to the environment, or, get this, using it for agricultural purposes (glowing vegetables, anyone?). If you have concerns about the commission's intentions, or about fracking itself, you can contact the N.C. Dept. of Environment and Natural Resources in Salisbury at 1-877-623-6748.

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