[colored_box color=green]Winona LaDuke is an activist, environmentalist, economist, and writer, known for her work on tribal land claims and preservation, as well as sustainable development. In 1996 and 2000, she ran for vice president as the nominee of the Green Party of the United States, on a ticket headed by Ralph Nader.[/colored_box]
Technically Enhanced Naturally Occurring Radioactive Materials.” I haven’t heard such an Orwellian phrase used by public health officials for years. I’ve got to hand it to the North Dakota Department of Health. “I think enhanced generally implies improvement,” Dean Hulse of Fargo told the Health Department at a Fargo hearing. He’s right.
I stumbled on hearings that were announced at Christmas, held in Williston, Bismarck and Fargo on Feb. 20-22. What’s up? The Department of Health is considering increasing the amount of radioactive materials put in landfills by a factor of l,000 percent or from five pico curies per liter to 50. That would help the fracking industry out tremendously, because most of those frack socks and other cool stuff – 27 tons of it a day – are coming in at 47 pico curies per liter; and we’ve an illegal dumping problem. So, let’s just make it a non-problem?
Special, not hazardous?
Now to be fair, these are “special landfills” for the oil and gas fracking business (whose wastes are supposed to be called “special” not “hazardous”). But the idea of low-level nuclear waste dumps might concern folks. Particularly since North Dakotan soil has a limit of 5 picocuries – the standard measure for the intensity of radioactivity – of radium per gram of soil in order to be considered not radioactive. The new proposal would be 10 times that much.
Timing of hearings, a quickly put together pro-industry study, and lack of public notice and participation make me nervous. To be clear, the Department of Health is thinking that instead of reducing risk to the population, they will just magically change the equation and give us a new recommended daily allowance of radiation. Wow.
Let’s review radiation. “There is no safe level of radiation exposure.” It’s all risky. Not just Fukashima or Chernobyl. In 1972, Dr. Abram Petkau discovered that low levels of radiation, over a longer period of time, were more damaging than higher doses over a short period of time.
Once you ingest or inhale even very low levels of radioactive particles the Petkau Effect starts potentially lethal tissue ionization. That hasn’t changed, no matter what industry says.
It doesn’t take much common sense to understand this, or much research. It all says the same thing: Background rates are increasing unnaturally. That is because we are taking stuff out of the ground we should not mess with, and we are having accidents with it – big ones, like Fukashima and Chernobyl, and small ones, (well relatively) like that 3 million gallon spill of radioactive brine, and a toxin-filled dangerous water spill.
Everyone at risk
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency notes problems for workers: “They may inhale radon gas, which is released during drilling and produced by the decay of radium, raising their risk of lung cancer.” In addition, they are exposed to alpha and gamma radiation released during the decay of radium-226 and the low-energy gamma radiation and beta particles released by the decay of radium-228, according to EPA. “Gamma radiation can also penetrate the skin and raise the risk of cancer.”
Most of those oil workers are going to be there for a year or two, but the Mandan, Arikara and Hidatsa people have been here l0,000 years or so, and probably plan on hanging around, as do a lot of North Dakotans. Long-term exposure is going to be a problem. Once radionuclides are released into the environment they circulate and are carried with the winds until they become part of the soil and food chain. They land in drinking water, are on the pastures that livestock graze on, are on our vegetables and in fruit trees, pastures, and then, of course, in us. We’ve got a big problem because we’re the apex or the T. rex’s of the ecosystem – the top of the food chain, and all this stuff bio-accumulates. In us.
Diseases from low level exposure include, leukemia, lymphoma, solid tumors, endocrine disruptions, reproductive abnormalities and more. All rotten stuff you would hope a health department would try to prevent. Maybe I am mistaken.
It’s a slippery slope. I heard something comical from a representative of the oil and gas industry. She said, “Nuclear radiation isn’t so bad. It’s not like Godzilla or anything. It’s more like Norm from ‘Cheers,’ … just there sitting at the bar.” I want more of the psychedelic drug she’s taking.
North Dakotans deserve better. The Department of Health should protect people not endanger them; and hold hearings when and where people can get to them. But maybe I am old fashioned.