Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Home Improvement: Testing for Radon Could Save Your Life

By: Eleanor Divver

Editor's Note: This is the first of a series of posts—during the month of September—focused on simple home improvement tips to help improve your quality of life and the environment.

A family moved into their dream home in Salt Lake City 15 years ago and tested their home for radon gas. The homes’ radon levels were below the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) radon action level. The family started remodeling and never thought about radon again, until the ER visit where they discovered that the wife/mother of the family had Stage 4 Lung Cancer. But, she never smoked—how is this possible? They decided to re-test the home and discovered the radon levels were very high—so high that it was like smoking three packs of cigarettes/day. How did this happen?

Radon is a radioactive, cancer-causing gas. It is the number one cause of lung cancer among non-smokers. Radon comes from the breakdown of uranium which naturally occurs in soil and rock. You can’t see, taste or smell radon. The only way to know if you have high levels of radon in your home is to test. Test kits are available online at www.radon.utah.gov for $8 for Utah residents. 1 in 3 homes in Utah have tested above the radon action level, which is 4 picocuries per liter (pCi/L) of air. The average radon level in homes tested in Utah is an unhealthy 5.3 pCi/L of air.

Example of a typical radon test kit for a home
Test your home for radon TODAY!

What can you do if you have high levels of radon? Radon levels can be fixed in every home. Radon mitigation systems can be installed for around $1,300. The mitigation system will easily bring the radon to levels around 2 pCi/L of air. If you do have high levels of radon, make sure that you find a Certified Mitigator, which can be found on the Division of Radiation Control (DRC) Radon Program webpage. Picking someone to fix your radon problem is much like choosing a contractor for other home repairs—you may want to get at least two estimates.

DRC has been tracking test results via zip code for 20 years. If you would like to find out more information about the zip code that you live in please go to www.radon.utah.gov and select “test results per zip code.” Remember that different neighborhoods can have different quantities of radon; every home is different, and the only way to know the radon levels in your home is to test.

Please test your home for radon today. Call our team at 801-536-0091, or visit DRC’s Radon Program website for more information. I would love to talk to you and answer any questions you may have about radon.

I have worked in the radon field for 15 years, most recently as the radon coordinator for Division of Radiation Control. I enjoy being outdoors with my family and golden retriever.


Thursday, August 28, 2014

Utah bows to Clean Air, Works with Industry

By: Donna Kemp Spangler

There’s been a lot of talk recently about how the Utah Division of Air Quality (DAQ) regulates emissions from evaporation ponds the oil and gas industry uses to process the contaminated water. In particular: Danish Flats Environmental Services, which operates a facility in a remote area of Grand County, north of Cisco. Danish Flats recently became news when DAQ reported in an Air Quality Board meeting that it negotiated a $50,000 penalty with the company for not seeking a proper permit based on its emissions. Some people question how could DAQ let this happen? Why was the penalty low?

I welcome the chance to discuss.

All DAQ documentation regarding Danish Flats
Environmental Services
First of all, the Danish Flats case is the first analysis and permit for this type of operation in the state. The accompanying photo represents the 2,000 pages documenting the basis for the permit, required controls and air quality impacts.

As you can see, much analysis and work went into regulating the Danish Flats facility. Based on this effort, all other similar facilities under state air quality jurisdiction are in the process of permitting and installing similar needed controls. Consider this: 13 other facilities, located in areas throughout Utah under EPA jurisdiction, are operating with no permits or controls on their emissions. The state regulation of these facilities is much more protective and proactive than federal regulation.

Secondly, the initial analysis that determined a permit wasn’t needed didn’t account for methanol—a hazardous air pollutant that is not a naturally occurring component of produced water. In addition, there is no ambient standard for methanol or any other hazardous air pollutant. The state has proactively required a modeling analysis 30 times more protective than the occupational exposure standards to help ensure they are not exceeded at the fence line of the facility, thereby protective of public health.

Lastly, Danish Flats was not given any pass for violating Utah’s air quality rules. The penalty is significant based on the circumstances of the company—a consideration in negotiations. It addresses the current violations and serves as a significant deterrent to future violations.

Critics who say Utah is bowing to industry merely ignore the progress we are making to elevate air quality discussions into Utah’s political and public dialogue.

I welcome your input and opinion. Please consider responding by posting a comment below.

I am the Communications Director for the Utah Department of Environmental Quality. DEQ publishes a blog post every Monday and periodically twice a week here at dequtah.blogspot.com.


Monday, August 25, 2014

Soils Cleanup: New Technology for Old Contamination

By: John Menatti

Contaminated soils under a former gas station are heating up—literally. For the first time in Utah, an innovative technology called Electrical Resistance Heating (ERH) is being used to clean up soil and water contaminated by gasoline leaks from underground storage tanks (USTs). DEQ is assisting in this cutting-edge cleanup effort by providing funding from its Petroleum Storage Tank (PST) Trust Fund.

Site of UST leak in Millcreek Township
with ERH equipment in place
Underground tanks, especially older tanks that have become corroded, can release gasoline into subsurface soils and ground water. In this particular instance, leaking gasoline from USTs at a former gas station in Millcreek Township, Salt Lake County, contaminated soil and groundwater to a depth of approximately 50 feet. Excavation—the typical remediation for these kinds of leaks—was not feasible because the contamination was so deep, the soils were clayey, and the station was located close to buildings and streets.

An environmental consultant for the developer of the property proposed a new, in-situ (in-place) remediation technology to remove the volatile organic compounds (VOCs) below the former gas station. This remediation technology, known as ERH, uses electricity to heat the subsurface soils and ground water to the boiling point of water, converting the VOCs in the soils and ground water from a liquid to a vapor that is then removed by a soil-vapor extraction (SVE) system. We had heard that this technology had been used successfully in Montana and New Mexico, so we approved its use at the property.

Here’s how ERH/SVE works:
Large electrodes are placed in vertical arrays around the site. Electrical current passes through the soils between these electrodes and flows through moisture in the pores in the soil.

Image Credit: TRS (www.thermalrs.com)

The resistance from the soil to the electrical current generates heat, turning the VOCs into vapors.

Image Credit: TRS (www.thermalrs.com)

As the gasoline in the subsurface evaporates, SVEs draw these vapors to the surface through extraction wells. The volatized gasoline vapors are then directed to a thermal oxidizer, where they are burned.

Image Credit: TRS (www.thermalrs.com)

The ERH/SVE system was installed in Spring 2013, and the subsurface electrodes were energized in November 2013. By February 2014, the subsurface gasoline-contaminated soil and ground water had been heated up to about 200 degrees Fahrenheit, and the SVE system was removing gasoline vapors and burning them in a thermal oxidizer under a Division of Air Quality (DAQ) permit.

Here is what the heating process looks like:
The white areas are the highest temperatures. As you can see, the soils heated up quite rapidly over a two-month period.

November 13, 2013

January 6, 2014

February 5, 2014

The electrodes will be de-energized in September and October 2014. It will take about three to four months for the soil to cool down after the electrodes are turned off. Soil and groundwater samples will then be collected to confirm that the site has been cleaned up to DEQ standards. After we confirm that the site meets these standards, we will issue a No Further Action (NFA) letter which will free up the property for development.

Want to learn more about DEQ’s UST program or underground storage tanks in general? Check out our latest newsletter, or visit our web pages. If you would like to find out if there have been any cleanups or releases from tanks in your neighborhood, visit our Interactive Map for more information.

I am the manager of the PST Trust Fund in the Division of Environmental Response and Remediation (DERR). I am a Utah-licensed Professional Geologist, hold a Master of Science and Technology degree in environmental science (2007) from the University of Utah and a Bachelor of Science degree in soil science (1980) from California Polytechnic State University. I like to play golf and hike in the mountains during the summer, and snowboard during the winter. I also enjoy spending time with my 10-year old grandson.