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J Air Waste Manag Assoc. 2012 Sep;62(9):1040-9.

Effect of biogas generation on radon emissions from landfills receiving radium-bearing waste from shale gas development.

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Geosciences and Engineering Division, Southwest Research Institute, 6220 Culebra Rd., San Antonio, TX 78238, USA.


Dramatic increases in the development of oil and natural gas from shale formations will result in large quantities of drill cuttings, flowback water, and produced water. These organic-rich shale gas formations often contain elevated concentrations of naturally occurring radioactive materials (NORM), such as uranium, thorium, and radium. Production of oil and gas from these formations will also lead to the development of technologically enhanced NORM (TENORM) in production equipment. Disposal of these potentially radium-bearing materials in municipal solid waste (MSW) landfills could release radon to the atmosphere. Risk analyses of disposal of radium-bearing TENORM in MSW landfills sponsored by the Department of Energy did not consider the effect of landfill gas (LFG) generation or LFG control systems on radon emissions. Simulation of radon emissions from landfills with LFG generation indicates that LFG generation can significantly increase radon emissions relative to emissions without LFG generation, where the radon emissions are largely controlled by vapor-phase diffusion. Although the operation of LFG control systems at landfills with radon source materials can result in point-source atmospheric radon plumes, the LFG control systems tend to reduce overall radon emissions by reducing advective gas flow through the landfill surface, and increasing the radon residence time in the subsurface, thus allowing more time for radon to decay. In some of the disposal scenarios considered, the radon flux from the landfill and off-site atmospheric activities exceed levels that would be allowed for radon emissions from uranium mill tailings.


Increased development of hydrocarbons from organic-rich shale formations has raised public concern that wastes from these activities containing naturally occurring radioactive materials, particularly radium, may be disposed in municipal solid waste landfills and endanger public health by releasing radon to the atmosphere. This paper analyses the processes by which radon may be emitted from a landfill to the atmosphere. The analyses indicate that landfill gas generation can significantly increase radon emissions, but that the actual level of radon emissions depend on the place of the waste, construction of the landfill cover, and nature of the landfill gas control system.

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