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Shale truck sets off alarm in South Huntingdon

Paul Peirce
| Tuesday, April 23, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

A truck loaded with Marcellus shale drill cuttings that triggered a radiation alarm at a hazardous waste landfill in South Huntingdon was ordered back to a Greene County drilling site last weekend.

Township Supervisor Mel Cornell said the MAX Environmental Technologies truck was quarantined Friday after it set off a radiation alarm at MAX's landfill near Yukon, a 159-acre site that accepts residual waste and hazardous waste.

DEP spokesman John Poister confirmed the drill cutting materials from Rice Energy's Thunder II pad in Greene County had a radiation level of 96 microrem.

The landfill must reject any waste with a radiation level that reaches 10 microrem or higher.

“It's low-level radiation, but we don't want any radiation in South Huntingdon,” Cornell said.

Poister said DEP instructed MAX to return the materials to the well pad where it was extracted for subsequent disposal at an approved facility.

“The material in question was radium 226, which is what we expect from shale drill cuttings. Every landfill in the state has radiation monitors and this showed the system did work,” Poister said.

He said Rice Energy will determine whether it will retest the load for radiation levels, and reapply for unloading at an approved landfill or take it to an out-of-state facility that accepts such materials.

“It's not too frequent that this occurs, but it's not totally infrequent either,” Poister said. “There are all kinds of sources for that type of material, including medical materials, and this is a huge safeguard we have in place.” Poister said the system worked in South Huntingdon.

“Everything was by the book in this case, I can assure you. The monitor went off, the truck was immediately moved to the quarantine zone, MAX notified us, and the next day we ordered it returned to the well pad,” Poister said.

Last year, MAX sought a change in its permit near Yukon to accept waste with levels up to 140 microrem.

A microrem is a unit used to measure the biological risk to human tissue from radiation. The average annual radiation exposure for a person in the United States is 620,000 microem, most of which comes from natural sources, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

The average chest X-ray emits 4,000 microrem, according to EPA. A body scan at an airport emits about 10 microrem, which equals about 15 minutes of exposure to natural background radiation such as the sun's rays.

Telephone messages left Monday with MAX and Rice Energy headquarters in Canonsburg were not returned.

MAX officials said at a July 2012 hearing on its permit application that other state landfills are permitted to accept waste with higher radiation levels, and MAX has lost business as a result.

Because of concern over radiation levels in byproducts associated with the oil and natural gas development industry, the DEP was directed earlier this year by Gov. Tom Corbett to undertake a comprehensive study of the issue.

Poister said the study is ongoing.

Paul Peirce is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-850-2860 or

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