It was just yesterday that I was sharing with you the new scientific data that even exposure to what has been considered low doses of radiation can be harmful. In particular, I mentioned the long-standing — but not always well-understood — issue of so-called Naturally Occurring Radioactive Material, or NORM. This is a radioactive by-product of the oil-production process; for years it was dumped across the Gulf Coast, polluting groundwater and contaminating pipes that then sickened workers or were placed in unsuspecting communities.
In the ongoing saga of the Bayou Corne sinkhole — the collapsing salt dome that has forced about 150 people out of their homes some 70 miles west of New Orleans — this has always been a concern ever since the earliest reports of bubbling swamp waters and foul odors, that some of the stuff coming up from under the ground will include unsafe levels of radiation. (It was just last week that we learned that toxic hydrogen sulfide was released as the owner, Texas Brine Co,, is working to vent and burn off gases from the troubled dome.)
Now, in just the latest in what seems like a never-ending stream of bad news about what’s been taking place under the Louisiana bayou, state officials are investigating whether radioactive waste was once buried there by Texas Brine Co.:
State officials are investigating how Texas Brine Co. LLC handled naturally occurring radioactive material in Assumption Parish — where a large sinkhole was found Aug. 3 — and whether it was illegally disposed of inside the Napoleonville Dome in the mid-1990s.
The state Department of Environmental Quality confirmed last week that a 1979 state statute prohibited disposal of naturally occurring radioactive material in large underground salt deposits like the Napoleonville Dome until legislative changes in 1999 made such disposal legal.
“What we’re going to do is investigate this thing the best we can with the information from 1995 and move forward as appropriate,” DEQ spokesman Rodney Mallett said.
In August 1995, Texas Brine considered putting up to 20 cubic feet of NORM in an underground company cavern in the Napoleonville Dome and in another salt dome in Lafourche Parish, according to DEQ and state Office of Conservation records.
The Office of Conservation did not object, but it is unclear if Texas Brine followed through on the plans.
This is a very confusing saga — when you get to the end of the piece it’s unclear just what exactly Texas Brine did or didn’t bury at the sinkhole. But that is the broader point — neither the company nor state regulators have been clear about has or hasn’t been taking place at this site for years. And they haven’t been either honest or forthcoming with the people of Louisiana now, in this hour of crisis for displaced families and for the worried residents still in the area.
Earlier this year, I joined with local activists like the Louisiana Bucket Brigade in calling for the federal Environmental Protection Agency to step in and take over the responsibilities of the Louisiana DEQ, which has been both overmatched and far too favorable to Big Oil and other industries. This is a textbook example of why. The people of Bayou Corne need to know what’s coming up from the ground, and they need to know whether that includes radioactive waste. And if Louisiana can’t provide those answers, they need to bring in someone who can.
To read the original Baton Rouge Advocate report on radioactive waste at the Louisiana sinkhole, please check out: http://theadvocate.com/news/4528709-123/radioactive-material-handling-probed
To check out my Nov. 26 post about the risks of low-level radiation, please read: http://www.stuarthsmith.com/important-new-science-shows-even-low-level-radiation-is-harmful/
Here is my May 21 post calling for an EPA takever of DEQ: http://www.stuarthsmith.com/louisiana-isnt-protecting-its-residents-from-hazardous-chemical-spills-so-its-time-for-feds-to-step-in/
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