What is TENORM?
Introduction to TENORM
TENORM, or Technologically Enhanced Naturally Occurring Radioactive Material, refers to naturally occurring radioactive materials whose radioactive concentrations are increased due to human activities.
Origin of TENORM
Naturally Occurring Radioactive Materials (NORM) are found ubiquitously in the environment—some examples of which include:
Uranium and Thorium: Present in various types of soils and rocks, and they decay over time to produce other radioactive materials like radium and radon.
Radium: Naturally occurring in almost all rock, soil, and even in some water sources.
Radon: This is a radioactive gas that emerges from the decay of uranium in the soil and rock. Certain geographical regions have higher concentrations due to their specific geological makeup.
Potassium-40: A natural isotope found in many foods and even in the human body, contributing to our slight inherent radioactivity.
Cosmic Radiation: Continuously showering the Earth, it originates from outer space, mainly from the sun and distant stars.
Coal: It harbors trace amounts of uranium and thorium, making its ashes slightly radioactive.
However, when human activities, such as:
Oil and Gas Production: Extraction processes can bring up radioactive residues, like radium, from deep within the earth. This radium can accumulate and form scale in pipelines, tanks, and production equipment.
Mining: Operations, especially those mining for uranium, can disrupt natural radioactive materials. Even non-uranium mines can bring radium and radon to the surface.
Water Treatment: Especially those sourcing from groundwater, can result in concentrated radium in the sludges and residues from the treatment process.
Phosphate Industry: While processing phosphate ores, which can naturally contain uranium and radium, the byproduct phosphogypsum can become radioactive.
Coal Combustion: The ash produced by burning coal can have elevated levels of uranium and thorium.
These activities can inadvertently increase the concentrations of radioactivity, leading to “Technologically Enhanced” levels, which are then termed as TENORM. Proper understanding and management of TENORM are crucial to ensure the safety of both people and the environment.
TENORM in Various Industries
Several industries might encounter TENORM. For instance, the oil and gas industry often deals with TENORM in the form of scale and sludge during the extraction process. Similarly, it can be found in coal ash from coal-fired plants, and in water treatment systems where radionuclides might accumulate on pipes and equipment.
Radionuclides are atoms with unstable nuclei that undergo radioactive decay. During this decay process, they emit radiation in the form of particles or electromagnetic waves. The term “radionuclide” encompasses a broad range of radioactive isotopes, which can be naturally occurring (like radon, uranium, or thorium) or can be artificially produced in reactors or cyclotrons. In the context of TENORM, the radionuclides are those naturally occurring radioactive materials that become concentrated or technologically enhanced due to human activities.
Health and Environmental Risks
Inhalation: One of the primary routes of exposure to TENORM is through the inhalation of radon gas and radioactive dust particles. When these particles are inhaled, they can deposit in the lungs, increasing the risk of lung cancer. This is particularly a concern in industries like mining or oil and gas, where TENORM can be concentrated in byproducts.
Ingestion: Another route of exposure is through ingestion. This can happen if contaminated water or food is consumed. For example, if water sources become contaminated with TENORM, it can lead to ingestion of radioactive materials.
Direct Physical Contact: While less common than other exposure routes, direct contact with TENORM-contaminated materials can result in the absorption of radioactive elements through the skin. Moreover, any wounds or cuts can serve as entry points for these materials into the body.
External Radiation Exposure: Even without direct contact, being in close proximity to large amounts of TENORM can expose individuals to radiation. Though the radioactivity is typically low, extended or frequent exposure can accumulate over time.
To safeguard against these risks:
- Regular monitoring and testing of work environments, especially those known to have TENORM, is vital.
- Use of personal protective equipment (PPE), like masks, gloves, and protective clothing, can prevent inhalation and direct contact.
- Proper ventilation in workplaces can reduce the concentration of airborne radioactive materials.
- Adhering to guidelines for the safe storage, transportation, and disposal of TENORM-contaminated waste can prevent environmental contamination and human exposure.
While the risks associated with TENORM are generally low, they can become significant with prolonged or concentrated exposure. Employing best practices in handling and disposal is key to protecting both human health and the environment.
TENORM Management Importance
Given the risks associated, managing TENORM appropriately is imperative. Proper management protocols not only protect human health but also safeguard the environment from potential radioactive contamination.
Decontamination and Safe Handling
Safe handling and decontamination of equipment and sites affected by TENORM are essential to reduce the risk of exposure. This involves specialized procedures and technologies designed to remove or reduce the radioactivity of the contaminated materials and equipment.
Handling TENORM requires compliance with various federal and state regulations designed to protect workers, the public, and the environment. These regulations set standards for exposure limits, waste disposal, transportation, and other aspects related to TENORM.
Baranko Environmental’s Role
Baranko Environmental is a licensed operator in North Dakota, specializing in the decontamination and transportation of TENORM. We employ patented processes and operate advanced facilities dedicated to managing TENORM effectively and safely. Our commitment is to adhere to the highest safety and regulatory standards, providing services that not only protect but also sustain the environment by keeping waste out of landfills and responsibly handling materials.