Low levels of radiation detected at impoundment

May 2, 2014
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Photo courtesy of Janet Lauff
Sludge and water containing low levels of radiation are being held in a roll-off box at the Carter impoundment in Mt. Pleasant Township.
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Emily Petsko / Observer-Reporter
Low levels of radiation were detected inside a piece of equipment at Range Resources’ Carter impoundment in Mt. Pleasant Township. Order a Print

Low levels of radiation were detected inside a piece of equipment at a Marcellus Shale wastewater impoundment in Mt. Pleasant Township.

About 20 inches of water and four inches of sludge with “above-background” radiation levels are being held inside a roll-off box at the Carter impoundment on Fort Cherry Road. The impoundment, owned and operated by Range Resources, holds recycled water used in the hydraulic fracturing process.

John Poister, spokesman for the state Department of Environmental Protection, said the radiation poses no risk to nearby residents or workers. He said a third-party contractor performing tests “literally (had) to stick the monitor into the tank to get the reading” for radiation.

According to preliminary test results from a hand-held monitor, 350 micro-rems per hour of radiation were detected inside the container holding the water and sludge. Poister said DEP radiation specialists explained that a person “would have to sleep right next to the sludge and be exposed to it 24 hours a day for years to have any effects.”

Range Resources discovered the radiation earlier this week when a contractor cleaned out the impoundment’s weir tanks, which allow solids to settle as water flows into the impoundment. Sludge from those tanks was transported to a Range facility and tested for radiation before heading to a landfill.

Once radiation was detected, the company applied for and was granted a Department of Transportation exemption to transport the materials back to the Carter impoundment for short-term storage. Once final test results are made available, Range will dispose of the materials at another landfill that will accept the levels of radiation.

Weir tanks also were removed from the impoundment site, and they will be cleaned and reused. Samples of the sludge were taken by a third-party company, and more definitive test results from a lab will be available within 30 days.

Kimberly Staub, whose farm is about 815 feet from the impoundment, said she feels uneasy that the radioactive materials will remain at the site for as long as a month.

Range Resources mailed letters to nearby residents Friday explaining the situation, but Staub said she called a company employee multiple times Friday and did not receive a return call.

“It’s a very scary situation,” Staub said of the uncertainty she and neighbors felt after learning that radiation was discovered. Nearby residents contacted the DEP Thursday after seeing a blue roll-off box with “radioactive” written across the side at the impoundment.

Naturally occurring radioactive material is contained in rock formations and can be released through the drilling process in drill cuttings and flowback water. The DEP says current data does not indicate any health risks, but the agency has undertaken a comprehensive study to examine the radiation levels.

Emily Petsko joined the Observer-Reporter as a staff writer in June 2013. She graduated from Point Park University with a dual bachelor's degree in journalism and global cultural studies.

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