On August 23, 2019, the Montana Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) proposed new regulations for managing the disposal of Technologically Enhanced Naturally Occurring Radioactive Materials (TENORM). The proposed rules are years in the making and have attracted both industry and public attention. DEQ expects it could be six months before the proposed rules are finalized and announced.
Naturally occurring radioactive material (NORM) is present in soils and rocks and can also be found in common items such as coffee, cat litter, granite countertops, and phosphate fertilizer. When NORM becomes concentrated, or “technologically enhanced,” through certain human activities, it is considered TENORM. TENORM is classified as “special waste,” but there are no specific federal regulations for its disposal. Therefore, it is up to individual states to determine and enforce TENORM regulations.
DEQ originally proposed TENORM rules in August 2017. However, after significant public response, DEQ elected to allow the proposed rules to expire in favor of revisiting them at a future date. DEQ then created a TENORM working group to refine the proposed rules, bringing in knowledge from a diverse set of stakeholders.
Tell me more about the proposed TENORM waste rules
DEQ’s website has a detailed list of the proposed rules. The rules would be the state’s first formal action toward defining how facilities should manage TENORM disposal. While Montana currently has a radioactivity limit of 50 picocuries per gram (pCi/g) for Radium-226 and Radium-228, there are no other TENORM-specific rules. The proposed rules would add more definition to the TENORM disposal process by including provisions for waste facility design and construction, operations and monitoring, spill reporting, financial assurance, and closure and post-closure care.
The rules also involve a proposed increase in the state’s TENORM waste radioactivity limit from 50 pCi/g to 200 pCi/g for Radium-226 and Radium-228. This would represent the highest limit in any state, as nearby states such as North Dakota remain at a threshold of 50 pCi/g for Radium-226 and Radium-228. Still, Montana’s proposed rule does limit the average TENORM concentration in a waste unit to 50 pCi/g and the total effective dose equivalent (TEDE) contributed by the TENORM cannot exceed 100 millirem per year (mrem/y).
Other key proposed changes include:
- An adjusted TENORM definition.Under proposed rules, material exposed (not concentrated) as a result of human activity would not be considered TENORM waste. This would include excavated soil as well as drill cuttings and mud. Six years of data collected at licensed facilities show these wastes to be significantly below the 5 pCi/g combined radium threshold to be considered TENORM waste.
- No inclusion of high-level or low-level radioactive wastes.
- Gate screening level at landfills must not exceed 200 microroentgen per hour (µR/hr), excluding background radiation.
- A distinction between TENORM and TENORM surface-contaminated objects.The latter would be defined as objects with TENORM distributed on external or internal surfaces (e.g. pipes, valve stems, and equipment or survey instruments). For TENORM surface-contaminated objects, gate screening level must not exceed 100 µR/hr.
What to expect and why
Like any regulated material, precautions with TENORM must be taken in order to protect human health and the environment. Radiation exposure and groundwater contamination represent two of the primary TENORM concerns. While TENORM is not the same thing as nuclear waste, it does emit radiation. The majority of emitted radiation comes in the form of alpha particles, which travel only a few feet and can be stopped by something as thin as a sheet of paper.
Near a facility currently processing TENORM waste, DEQ’s groundwater tests have shown increases in chloride and radium. The proposed rules would require TENORM waste management system license applications to include a site-specific groundwater sampling and analysis plan. Additionally, to remove bias, the proposed rules would require a third-party scientist to conduct groundwater sampling.
To further mitigate risks, owners and operators of TENORM waste management systems must also sample and characterize the waste; implement a Radiation Protection and Awareness Program; apply daily cover; conduct dust monitoring and control; and implement continuous monitoring of ionizing radiation doses at the license boundary.
What happens next?
With the public commenting period now closed, DEQ is reviewing comments and will incorporate feedback into the proposed rules, where applicable.
Trihydro is tracking developments closely and can assist in answering your TENORM questions as well as general landfill design, permitting, and compliance inquiries.