Aug 29, 2012

Sinkhole radiation 15 times over limit, residents urged to record health signs

The Louisiana Sinkhole story is not likely to go away anytime soon.  Nor is it likely to end well.

A non-government group is urging Bayou Corne sinkhole area residents to use a new record log as a veteran radiation expert says Louisiana environmental officials are “in denial” over hazards posed by elevated radium levels that are actually fifteen times higher than the state limit, a "worst nightmare coming true," according to an environmental attorney.

Stanley Waligora, a New Mexico-based radiation protection consultant and leading authority on health risks of naturally occurring radioactive material (NORM) has confirmed that radium levels at Bayou Corne's sinkhole are not within safe limits, but instead, roughly 15 times higher than the state's acceptable level, according to one of the nation's leading environmental attorney's Stuart Smith.

State officials are saying NORM is is below hazardous levels, but the independent findings indicate other actions need to be taken, including residents using Louisiana Environmental Action Network's report logs to record signs and symptoms of ill health.

The information about radium is buried in a state news release, poorly written, "and goes out of its way to downplay the results," Smith said Wednesday.

This week, after state officials released the results of samples taken 80 feet under the surface of the growing, slurry-filled pit, Marco Kaltofen, a civil engineer and president of Boston Chemical Data Corp., noted those results posted by the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality, or DEQ, show elevated rates of NORM in the sinkhole.

NORM is a frequent byproduct of the oil and gas drilling process, creating wastes that industry has often then dumped improperly, according to Smith who specializes in this area of environmental law.

Kaltofen’s analysis of the situation in Bayou Corne includes:

"Radium in the body is absorbed because it is chemically similar to calcium. The normal maximum guideline level for radium in surface water is 5 picoCuries per liter, (pCi/L). The state’s testing found 82 pCi/L in the water of the growing sinkhole. Radium gives off alpha' radiation. This form of radiation is extremely dangerous if inhaled or ingested, and less dangerous if exposed by skin contact."

When radium decays, it produces the dangerous radioactive gas, radon. EPA warns that radon gas causes lung cancer, and exposure can be as hazardous to your lungs as a serious cigarette habit.

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