Pennsylvania DEP Finds Record Level of Radon in Home

By press release dated November 17, 2016, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) announced that it has detected a new record-high level of radon and is once again encouraging state residents to test their homes for this radioactive gas, a leading cause of lung cancer.

In particular, in October 2016, a home in southern Lehigh County showed a radon level of 6,176 picocuries per liter (pCi/L)—the highest recorded in the state.  The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has set an action level for radon concentration in homes at 4 pCi/L.  Homes testing above this level should have a radon reduction system installed.

Radon is a colorless, odorless, radioactive gas that occurs naturally through the breakdown of uranium in soil and rocks.  It can enter a home through cracks in the foundation or other openings.

The National Toxicology Program—comprising the National Institutes of Health (NIH), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and Food and Drug Administration (FDA)—classifies radon as a known human carcinogen.  Scientists estimate that about 20,000 lung cancer deaths yearly are related to radon.  It’s the leading cause of lung cancer in nonsmokers and second leading cause in smokers.

Because of its geology, Pennsylvania is prone to high radon levels.  Radon has been detected in all 67 counties.  Approximately 40 percent of homes in the state have levels above EPA’s action level.  In 2014, a number of homes in the southern Lehigh County area were found to have radon levels over 1,000 pCi/L.  That area is near the Reading Prong, a geological section of granite rock that historically has generated high levels of radon.

Testing is the only way to know if a home, school, workplace or other structure has elevated levels of radon.  An easy home test kit can be purchased at hardware or home improvement stores for about $20 to $30.  People may also hire a state-certified testing company.

If a level above 4 pCi/L is found, a radon mitigation, or reduction, system should be installed.  This is essentially a pipe with a fan to suction the gas from the ground and discharge it above the roofline, where the radon is dispersed.  DEP recommends that homebuilders install radon reduction systems during construction.  DEP certifies all radon testers, mitigators and laboratories doing business in the state, to ensure reliable results.

For additional news, including information on interpreting radon test results and finding a Pennsylvania-certified radon contractor, visit the DEP Radon Division website at http://www.dep.pa.gov/Business/RadiationProtection/RadonDivision/Pages/default.aspx or call (800) 237-2366.

Pennsylvania Releases Revised TENORM Study

Earlier this summer, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) released a revised version of its January 2015 study regarding Technologically Enhanced Naturally Occurring Radioactive Materials (TENORM), which analyzed the naturally occurring levels of radioactivity associated with oil and natural gas development in Pennsylvania.

The Pennsylvania DEP issued the revised version to correct errors in the data tables, inconsistent use of significant figures, and some typos.  In addition, DEP published a new Appendix M that contains the non-radiological data generated and collected that was not with the scope of the study.

Although the DEP report outlined recommendations for further study, it concluded that there is little potential for harm to workers or the public from radiation exposure due to oil and gas development.

The revised study report, as well as a second version of the revised report that shows the edits, is available at http://www.dep.pa.gov/Business/Energy/OilandGasPrograms/OilandGasMgmt/Oil-and-Gas-Related-Topics/Pages/Radiation-Protection.aspx.

Ohio Scrap Metal Facilities Receive Shipments Containing LLRW

By press release dated February 24, 2016, the Ohio Department of Health (DOH) announced that “[s]crap metal facilities in Canton, Mansfield and Massillon received shipments containing low-levels of radiation.” The Ohio DOH release stated that the exact source of the radiation that contaminated the scrap metal is being investigated. “The contaminated scrap metal is securely contained and does not pose a health risk to the facilities’ employees or the general public,” states the Ohio DOH release.

The following day, on February 25, 2016, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) put out a press release stating that it was notified on February 23 “that recycle scrap contaminated with radioactive material was shipped from a PSC Metals, Inc. facility in Beaver Falls, PA, to two facilities in Ohio.” According to the Pennsylvania DEP release, “[a] radium-226 source of unknown origin was accidentally shredded with other materials, then shipped to processing facilities in Ohio.”

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has been notified of the incident. PCS Metals has hired a licensed decontamination provider to develop a plan for cleanup at the Beaver Falls scrap yard and the Ohio sites, as well as for safe disposal of the contaminated scrap metal.

Ohio DOH radiation protection staff was on-site at all three facilities to conduct radiation testing and to ensure planning for the safe disposal of the contaminated scrap metal. According to the Ohio DOH release, radiation surveys of contaminated scrap metal:

  •   delivered to PCS Metals, Inc. in Canton showed a highest reading of 70 microrem per hour, which is equivalent to less than one-tenth of the radiation dose from a chest x-ray; and,
  •   delivered to PCS Metals, Inc. in Massillon showed a highest reading of 25 millirem per hour, which is equivalent to the radiation dose from two-and-a-half chest x-rays within one hour.

The Ohio DOH release states that contaminated scrap metal delivered to Tube City, Inc. in Mansfield was not unloaded and instead redirected to PCS Metals’ Canton facility. Surveys of employee clothing, locker areas and break rooms at both PCS Metals locations did not show any radiation contamination.

A team from Pennsylvania DEP’s Radiation Protection Program took extensive readings at the Beaver Falls scrapyard. “Elevated readings were found on one large metal shredder and on gloves used by two workers,” states the Pennsylvania DEP release. “DEP is performing additional testing to ensure that there was no skin contamination. Radium-226 can be harmful if ingested.”

The Pennsylvania DEP release goes on to state that preliminary tests on the workers who operated the Beaver Falls machine showed no contamination, but that results are still pending. The Pennsylvania DEP release further states that the shredder has been isolated and that there is no indication that there is any contamination at the site, nor outside the scrapyard property.