DEQ: No detectable levels of radioactive material in sink hole

Published: Aug. 9, 2012 at 3:51 PM CDT|Updated: Aug. 17, 2012 at 10:48 AM CDT
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BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - Scientists took samples from the giant sink hole in Assumption Parish Thursday to test them for naturally occurring radioactive material (NORM).

The Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) said because the slurry in Bayou Corne is near areas used for oil and gas exploration in the past, the presence of low levels of NORM is possible.

However, initial test results say there were no detectable levels for NORM.

Scientists used handheld monitoring devices to detect any real-time levels of NORM. NORM is present in the earth's crust and reaches the surface through activities like oil and gas exploration or mining. It can also reach the surface through natural processes.

DEQ scientists went to the slurry hole Thursday in an airboat supplied by the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries to take readings using equipment designed to measure levels of radiation.

A scientist surveyed the entire slurry hole via airboat while monitoring with the equipment. At no point were there any detectable levels. NORM readings were taken on the 15 water samples that were collected Wednesday and there were no levels above background.

Scientists Thursday also took four water samples and a soil sample which will be sent to the lab for more detailed analysis. Those results will be back early next week, as DEQ has asked the lab to provide expedited analysis.

"This is good news," said Hatch. "Based on the first round of data, we are confident that the potential exposure of citizens to NORM is not a problem in this matter. We will continue to provide data based on air and water sampling to Assumption Parish and DNR."

Officials said the sampling is not happening in a populated area. The location is remote.

The department's Mobile Air Monitoring Laboratory, also known as MAML, will test air quality for possible pollutants near homes.

DEQ said MAML is not used to monitor NORM, but will instead be used to test for air pollutants related to diesel and other oil and gas exploration materials.

"The staff at DEQ is committed to the protection of human health and the environment," Hatch said. "We have taken water and air samples regularly in support of Assumption Parish and our sister agencies involved in an effort to ensure the air and water quality is safe. Out of abundance of caution and because of the ongoing incident, I have decided to further enhance our monitoring efforts."

DEQ has been monitoring the air near the slurry since July 13 and sampled about 100 private properties for possible air pollution.

Officials said none of the samples showed any health threats related to air pollution.

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