ISSUE: Shipment of TENORM from a state that regulates TENORM to a state which does not
LIABILITY CONCERNS: The handling of low levels of radioactively contaminated materials by persons not authorized or trained in the hazards has particular liability concerns.
Of particular note is the instance where AEC was the technical consultant to clients in defense from a plaintiff who contracted cancer. The plaintiff assumed that since the material he was shipping had “radioactive materials” (this was an ore), he obviously got his cancer from this material. After a while the case was dropped by the plaintiff after it was pushed by the defense that the material was not regulated. Even the Health Physics professors on the plaintiff’s side could not come up with valid arguments to assure that it was a “non-stochastic” (meaning not random) event that was directly caused by the material. NOTE: A typical “non-stochastic” event would be seeing redness on patients undergoing radiation treatments. So, our position was that it was a stochastic event or a “random” event that this person came down with cancer (one in five of the population will contract cancer). The plaintiff dropped the case .
Now, how is the above example different from a plan to ship TENORM to a state where TENORM is not regulated? The main difference is the licensee is shipping licensed materials as opposed to the unlicensed materials on the previous shipment case. The TENORM is licensed because many other states feel certain controls should be implemented by the user for worker protection and prevent contaminating the environment. This gives it a slightly higher risk category and should not be taken lightly.
AEC has presented talks to corporations about evaluating risk, especially as it pertains to radiation. And the concept of RISK = HAZARD X OUTRAGE is for your consideration. For example, if your company spills a 55 gallon drum of sulfuric acid, chances are, it wouldn’t be on the front page of the newspaper. However, if you have a load of radioactive materials (such as TENORM) in a wreck, lost some radioactive materials, or a person that handles it comes down with cancer and claims it was from the TENORM, the work of the company has just started. News could hit the front page and the company will be “guilty” until proven innocent. But, the damage will be done.
So, what do we do to reduce our risk? We take prudent steps to mitigate it as much as possible. When it comes to RISK MANAGEMENT, there are things WE KNOW, things WE DON’T KNOW, and things WE DON’T KNOW we DON’T KNOW. Our goal should be to minimize the last item as much as we can while we take into consideration costs and time.
THINGS WE KNOW AND THINGS WE DON’T KNOW:
- THINGS WE KNOW: There are Agreement States and non-Agreement States that choose to regulate the handling, disposal and shipment of the materials through various methods. This could be by regulation, license, written or unwritten policy. There is also a requirement in all Agreement State regulations that a licensee can ship licensed amounts of radioactive materials only to another licensee. THINGS WE DON’T KNOW: There may be concern that when the TENORM is shipped, the State regulators of origin may want to see the license of the recipient (which there will be none).
- THINGS WE KNOW: Some Agreement States and non-Agreement States (means it doesn’t regulate those typical categories of radioactive materials since the NRC regulates it for them) do not choose to regulate TENORM. The non-Agreement State lets the NRC perform the primary regulatory functions but may regulate non-NRC items, such as accelerator-produced materials and x-ray machines.
- THINGS WE KNOW: The USNRC regulates BY-PRODUCT MATERIALS, SOURCE MATERIALS, and SPECIAL NUCLEAR MATERIALS (SNM).
BY-PRODUCT MATERIALS are man-made from a reactor from separation of mixed fission products or through irradiation, i.e. making something non-radioactive into radioactive material by “activating” it via neutron bombardment.
SOURCE MATERIALS are >0.05% by weight of natural uranium or thorium. A material is considered “source” material because it is a potential source of SPECIAL NUCLEAR MATERIALS if it goes through enrichment to increase the proportion of a more fissionable isotope.
SPECIAL NUCLEAR MATERIALS are those materials that will fission upon receipt of a neutron. Only the NRC can license a “critical mass” of SNM sufficient to create a chain reaction or a bomb. Notice what is left out, the NRC does not specially regulate TENORM. It is naturally occurring and not SOURCE materials. So, they simply provide guidance to the Agreement States and Non-Agreement States.
WHAT COULD BE YOUR PLAN?
- REQUIRED: If you are putting regulated amounts of TENORM on the public highway and it qualifies as a particular class of radioactive shipment, it must be packaged according to those USDOT HAZMAT regulations. To what extent it is classified as a radioactive shipment or TENORM exempt, depends on how much radioactivity, radiation levels and how shipped.*
- RECOMMEND: Provide some type of Right-To-Know training for the recipient. You may want to have a discussion with the recipient and their employees up front to avoid anxieties. Maybe just a Skype Q&A like a town meeting atmosphere.
- RECOMMEND: Provide a list of PPE that should be used. Since they do not have the training to use a survey meter, nor have one on site, they should wear at least tyveks with gloves. Emphasize no eating, drinking, smoking where cloths are handled and no exposure of this material to wounds. At the completion of the work, simply dispose the PPE with the cloths.
- RECOMMEND: Advise handling the TENORM as they would another type of hazard such as lead or even asbestos. Additional PPE may be required, depending on what they are going to do with it. For example, if they are going to anneal or treat the TENORM for R&D work, some type of venting would be appropriate. And, if workers are around it, simple surgical masks would be sufficient.
- RECOMMEND: When ready to dispose, ask the recipient to package and take to a landfill; or, have the TENORM, PPE and paraphernalia that the lab used be returned to the shipper. It’s a little more expensive, but avoids any question that the licensee attempted to minimize public exposures and dispose of the cloths in a manner consistent with their State of origin. If you are not going to have them returned, have the materials dispersed throughout their dumpster before it goes to the landfill.
- RECOMMEND: After completion, ask the point of contact at the vendor to have a discussion of their experience. If there are any lingering concerns, you want to know about them. And, while it is fresh in their minds, you are available to assist in their understanding and clarifying any miscues.
*AEC performed a detailed study on the “CHARACTERIZATION OF OBJECTS CONTAMINATED BY TECHNOLOGICALLY ENHANCED NATURALLY OCCURRING RADIOACTIVE MATERIALS (TENORM) WITHIN THE PHOSPHATE INDUSTRY” for the Florida Institute of Phosphate Research. Go to the following link to download this report.