An Action Alert from CARP: The Coalition Against the Rockaway Pipeline (www.carpny.org
This week we enter the holiday season by lighting candles and stringing lights, by bringing our loved ones closer and giving thanks for our blessings over tables laden with food. And for some it begins with a celebration of a miracle – the oil that burned for 8 days when there was barely enough for one night.
As we celebrate the holidays of light and thanksgiving this week, again our thoughts go back just one year to the dark and the cold, to families gathered outdoors on Thanksgiving Day to share food behind a church, to houses ripped apart and people far from home, not sure when they could ever return.
Williams Transco is promising lots of light and heat – but let’s be aware of what may be mingled with that gas coming into our kitchens, our boilers and clothes dryers.
Here’s this week’s subject:
FERC (the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission) is accepting comments on the Rockaway Lateral Delivery Project. Please make a comment, and help us to Keep Radioactive Radon Gas out of our kitchens!
The gas industry intends to surround us with an expanding network of shale gas pipelines to bring fracked gas to markets here and overseas. One of these is the Rockaway Pipeline, a 26-inch high-pressure pipeline to be built by Williams Transco and National Grid. It will be trenched into the ocean floor, run under the sand of Riis Park Beach, cross below the Rockaway Inlet adjacent to Jamaica Bay, and continue up Flatbush Avenue to a metering & regulating facility (M&R station) to be built in two historic hangars at Floyd Bennett Field.
Plans for this pipeline are currently under review by FERC, which has issued a draft Environmental Impact Statement (dEIS) on the project.
To help you prepare your comments, we are featuring each week a different aspect of the many dangers and concerns surrounding this pipeline. This week’s suggested comments focus on the fact that the Rockaway Pipeline will bring radioactive radon gas from the Marcellus Shale to our kitchens and boilers.
1. Talking points on this week’s topic: Radon Exposure
All gas extracted from shale contains radon, an inert radioactive gas which can cause lung cancer. Radon mixes with the methane in what we call “natural” gas and travels through delivery pipelines to reach our kitchen stoves, gas dryers and boilers.
Radon is the leading cause of lung cancer in non-smokers. Lung cancer is the most common cancer for both men and women, and its 5-year survival rate is the lowest among all cancers. The cancer risk from radon increases when exposure is repeated and more spread out over time, even if the exposure is at very low levels.
Radon decays to equally radioactive and dangerous “progeny,” including polonium and radioactive lead, before decaying to regular, non-radioactive lead. When radon is breathed in, the radon itself is exhaled, but the radon progeny deposits in the lungs, where it causes cancer. Because radon is a “heavy” gas, it tends to gravitate towards the floor, making it a particular danger for children and pets. Radon progeny can also plate out on the sides of gas pipes, creating “hot” radioactive pipes which are an exposure hazard, and a problem for disposal.
In 1986, the EPA set a limit for exposure to radon in air at 4 picocuries per liter. However, because of increased exposure to many other kinds of radiation in today’s world, both Johns Hopkins University and the World Health Organization have indicated that 2.7 picocuries per liter would be a better standard. Of course, there is no truly safe level of exposure.
In the past, the natural gas used in this region was sourced from the Gulf Coast. Such gas has been found to average approximately 5 picocuries of radon per liter at the wellhead. But the Rockaway Pipeline, according to Williams Transco’s own statements, will also bring us gas from the Marcellus Shale, which lies under Pennsylvania, Ohio and New York. This gas is much more radioactive. Studies at wellheads in the Marcellus are very limited, but have shown the potential for as much as 150 picocuries per liter at the wellhead. Suffice it to say that people within the industry use the radioactivity of the Marcellus Shale as a “marker” to distinguish it from gas from other locations!
Radon levels in NYC apartments will become higher as the proportion of Marcellus gas in our supply increases. Because this source is much physically closer to New York also means that the radon has less time to decay in transit. Radon has a half-life (loses half of its radioactivity) of 3.85 days. Gas from the Gulf Coast takes 4-8 days to reach New York City, but gas from the Marcellus, which is so much more radioactive to start with, would get here much faster, in less than a day. So this makes it even more likely that we will be exposed to gas with dangerous levels of radon.
NYC kitchens are particularly vulnerable to radon buildup, since many of these kitchens are small, and may not have windows or hoods venting to the outside. When internal “passive” wall vents exist in apartments, people often seal them to avoid cooking odors from neighbors. And during the winter, when windows are most likely to be closed, the demand for gas is highest, and so it is delivered at a faster rate with even less time for radioactivity to decay. Also, many NYC gas stoves, especially in low-income neighborhoods, still have old fashioned “pilot lights” which result in 24/7 exposure to gas.
Voluntary citizen radon testing over the past two years has shown that NYC kitchens typically have radon levels less than .3 picocuries per liter. We want to keep it that way! But with radioactive Marcellus Shale gas coming to NYC from both the Rockaway Pipeline, and the Spectra Pipeline into Manhattan, it has been estimated that an additional 30,000 deaths from lung cancer could result. Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal considers this to be such a threat to New Yorkers’ health that she introduced a bill, A6863,
which would require suppliers of natural gas to guarantee that gas delivered to NYC does not contain unacceptable levels of radon.
So what does the FERC draft EIS have to say about radon? Very little. Section 220.127.116.11 of the dEIS states as follows:
“Radon is a naturally occurring radioactive gas that is odorless and tasteless. It is formed from the radioactive decay of uranium (Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, 2011). Radon can be contained in fossil fuels including natural gas. Since radon is not destroyed by combustible burning natural gas containing radon can increase the level of radon within a home (Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, 2010). Several factors limit the indoor exposure to radon from natural gas. Radon’s half-life, defined as the time it takes for the element to decay to half its initial concentration, is relatively short (3.8 days). The time needed to gather, process, store and deliver natural gas allows a portion of the entrained radon to decay, which decreases the amount of radon in the gas before it is used in a residence. The required venting of appliance exhausts from water heaters, furnaces, and other appliances also limits potential exposure pathways to radon emissions.”
“While the FERC has no regulatory authority to set, monitor, or respond to indoor radon levels, many local, state, and federal entities establish and enforce radon exposure standards for indoor air. It is expected that the combustion of gas transported by the Projects would comply with all applicable air emission standards. In the unlikely event that these standards are exceeded, the necessary modification would be implemented to ensure public safety.”
They seem to be saying that: (1) the radon will decay (even though we know that it will arrive from the Marcellus in less than a day, less than the 3.8 day half-life); (2) venting will reduce exposure (even though many kitchens have neither windows nor functioning vents); and (3) if there is a problem, it will somehow be dealt with. This does not seem very reassuring.
Another thing to consider is that methane pipelines are subject to enormous amounts of leakage, so even if you do not have natural gas in your own kitchen, you may still be exposed to this radioactive gas as you walk the streets of the five boros. For example, take a look at natural gas leaks in Manhattan: http://blog.visual.ly/data-art-and-environmentalism-collide-at-cooper-union/
Please tell FERC, in your own words, why you do not want the Rockaway Pipeline to expose us to dangerous levels of radon that will cause cancer. Some additional materials that may be helpful are given below.
2. How to Submit Comments
You can submit a short text-only comment of 6000 letters or less by clicking on the COMMENT box here.
BE SURE TO INCLUDE THE DOCKET NUMBER, CP13-36-000.
If you want to submit with attachments, or are commenting on behalf of an organization or sending a paper copy, go here for instructions.”
3. Other Talking Points
Other talking points are available concerning the likelihood of construction at the beach this spring and summer, the segmentation of parts of this project to avoid federal review, potential impacts on protected species and commercial fisheries, the dredging up of long-buried toxins, whether we need this gas, the effects of more fossil fuel development on our climate, and how this pipeline and others will lock us in to more fracking rather than helping us transition to renewable energy. Thank you.