Special Delivery? Spectra pipeline could bring radon to NYC stoves

BREAKING NEWS  Sierra Club Atlantic Chapter has issued a press release: Professor James W. Ring, Professor Emeritus of nuclear physics at Hamilton College, has confirmed, in his testimony to the NYS DEC, the dangers of inhaled radon and the likelihood that shale gas extracted from the Marcellus will deliver radon into residences at point of use. The Spectra pipeline will deliver Marcellus shale gas from nearby Pennsylvania to New York City homes, increasing the risk that residents will inhale radon when turn on their gas stoves.

Professor Ring explains: This is a serious health hazard when radon is breathed into the lungs and lodges there to decay, doing damage to the lung’s tissue and eventually leading to lung cancer. Next to smoking, radon is the most potent cause of lung cancer.  The radon and natural gas coming from the shale mix together, and travel together, as the gas is piped to customers. Radon can get into the indoor environment as gas stoves are turned on.

Radon gas, which is not absorbed by the skin, is present in many circumstances. When present outdoors or in well-ventilated areas, it is not generally a concern. It becomes dangerous when inhaled, which is more likely in small or poorly-ventilated rooms, such as the typical New York City kitchen. Many apartment kitchens do not have windows, and residents often seal vents to avoid neighbors' cooking odors.

Radon is released with methane during the extraction process of hydrofracking. This is true wherever fracking is done. The shale and gas in the Marcellus areas of Pennsylvania has proven to be more highly radioactive than other, more distant shale plays, which have previously supplied New York's gas. According to Dr. Marvin Resnikoff, "wellhead concentrations in the Marcellus are up 70 times the average." Radon in Natural Gas from Marcellus Shale By Marvin Resnikoff, Radioactive Waste Management Associates « GDACC

Radon is more of a concern the closer the supply, because there is less time for the radioactivity to dissipate. It is estimated that gas from Pennsylvania would travel to NYC within one day's time. During winter months, when demand is higher, gas is delivered faster, and, with apartment windows tending to be closed, the risk would be even greater.

Radon has a half life of 3.8 days. Using the general rule of thumb of 10 half lives to decay to 1/1000 of original concentration, that would be 38 days, or roughly one month, depending on how radioactive it was to start. With radon, a gas, the minimum dangerous concentration is much lower if breathed in.  Twenty half lives (or 1/1,000,000 of original concentration) would require 76 days or two and a half months. When fully decayed, radon converts to lead, not exactly a harmless substance itself.

As more of the gas supplied to NYC apartments comes from fracked sources, radon becomes more and more of a concern. Currently, 30% of the national gas supply is from unconventional (fracked) sources, up from 9% just 2 years ago. The portion of the Spectra pipeline capacity which will supply Con Edison is contracted to Chesapeake Energy, a major driller in the Marcellus, and would greatly increase the amount of fracked gas coming directly to NY from PA. 

The draft EIS (Environmental Impact Statement) of the Spectra pipeline does not include radon in its review of issues. This is a subject which deserves further study before this, or any other supplies of Marcellus gas, are delivered to the residents of the five boroughs, where it may endanger the health of tens of thousands of citizens.

Pink areas of map show "high" radon potential (US Geological Survey) 

Dr. Marvin Resnikoff's report on radon risk: Radon in Natural Gas from Marcellus Shale By Marvin Resnikoff, Radioactive Waste Management Associates « GDACC

Sierra Club Press release: http://dl.dropbox.com/u/41163777/scac%20press%20release%20radon%20copy.pdf