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Radioactive-Waste Disposal: NORM Disposal

Defines "naturally occurring radioactive material" and links to TCEQ rules and guidance relevant to the disposal in Texas of wastes that contain these materials.

What Is NORM?

NORM stands for “naturally occurring radioactive material”—in other words, a substance that naturally contains one or more radioactive isotopes, also called radionuclides.

NORM waste typically is produced by an industrial, mining, or manufacturing process that uses NORM. Some of these processes concentrate one or more naturally occurring radionuclides, resulting in waste that contains a higher radioactive concentration than occurs naturally. NORM is generally categorized as being either “discrete” or “diffuse”:

  • Discrete NORM is usually a small amount of waste material that can contain relatively high concentrations of NORM. Examples of discrete NORM include:
    • radium-painted watchdials
    • aircraft instrument panels
  • Diffuse NORM is typically much lower in concentration but occurs in higher volumes of waste which need to be properly handled. Examples of diffuse NORM include:
    • Fly ash—a fine, lightweight ash produced when coal is burned for fuel. Coal is composed mostly of carbon and carbon-containing compounds but also naturally contains uranium, thorium, and other naturally occuring radioisotopes. Because these radioisotopes are not volatile, burning away the carbon leads to higher levels of them in the fly ash. But not all coal contains the same level of these radioisotopes, so the level of radioactivity in the fly ash depends on the source of the coal as well as on the concentration effect of burning the coal.
    • Phosphogypsum, which results from the processing of phosphate ore into phosphoric acid for fertilizer. Phosphate ore naturally contains uranium and radium. These radionuclides are more concentrated in phosphogypsum because they are largely left behind when the phosphate is made into phosphoric acid.
    • Some sludges and scales generated during petrochemical refining and manufacturing.

Even though uranium and thorium occur naturally, by statute and rule they are defined as source material. NORM waste is also defined by statue and rule to exclude source material or byproduct material. Source material is any combination of uranium or thorium and ores that contain greater than 0.05 weight percent of uranium, thorium, or any combination thereof. The waste or tailings produced by the extraction or concentration of uranium or thorium from ore, for isolating the uranium or thorium, is byproduct material. If radium has been concentrated in a material for commerce, medicine, or research, then it is also a byproduct material. Different rules govern the use and disposal of source and byproduct material. See Source Material Recovery and Byproduct Material Disposal for more details.

NORM waste also excludes material that is exempted under the rules of the TCEQ or the Texas Department of State Health Services (Health and Safety Code 401.106 Exit the TCEQ). NORM waste that is exempt is treated as though it is not radioactive. NORM waste in which the radionuclide content has not been concentrated is exempt in the majority of cases. For more information on the exemption of NORM waste, see TCEQ publication RG-486.

Why Should We Care about NORM Wastes?

In general, NORM wastes contain radionuclides found in nature, such as radium, thorium, or uranium. Once these radionuclides become concentrated through human activity, they can become radioactive hazards through potential ingestion or by direct exposure from radiation the material emits. Some NORMs are heavy metals and are themselves toxic, for example, uranium. Radium-226 is of particular concern because it decays to the radioactive gas radon. Radon has been shown, at high concentrations, to increase the risk of cancer in the lungs of persons who regularly breathe it.

Who Regulates NORM in Texas?

NORM was not subject to regulatory control under the Atomic Energy Act of 1954 or the Low Level Radioactive Waste Policy Act. Thus, NORM was subject primarily to individual state radiation-control regulations. Section 651(e) of the Energy Policy Act of 2005 gives the NRC jurisdiction over discrete sources of NORM by redefining the definition of source material.

In Texas, NORM is regulated under the Texas Radiation Control Act as follows:

  • The Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS), Radiation Control has jurisdiction over the use, treatment, and storage of NORM (DSHS NORM Licensing Web Page) Exit the TCEQ.
  • The Railroad Commission of Texas Exit the TCEQ has jurisdiction over the handling and disposal of NORM wastes produced during the exploration and production of oil and gas (RRC rules for NORM). Exit the TCEQ
  • The TCEQ has jurisdiction over the disposal of other NORM wastes.

Exemptions for NORM waste due to low radionuclide concentrations are promulgated by the TCEQ under 30 TAC §336.5. This rule allows the TCEQ to use the exemption allowances provided in the Department of State Health Services (DSHS) rules listed under 25 TAC §289.259 Exit TCEQ for NORM and 25 TAC §289.251 Exit TCEQfor source material. If you are licensed for radioactive material under a DSHS license, contact DSHS Exit TCEQ for exemptions of this material. Exempted NORM is regulated solely as a solid waste under the Texas Solid Waste Disposal Act.

Commercial Disposal of NORM Waste

Under TCEQ rules, only NORM wastes generated during the treatment of public drinking water may be commercially disposed of in Texas, and only by injection into a Class I injection well. A license to dispose of radioactive material and an underground-injection-well permit are required, as discussed under 30 TAC Chapter 336, Subchapter K Exit the TCEQ and 30 TAC Chapter 331 Exit the TCEQ, respectively. To obtain these authorizations an applicant must complete and submit both an Application for a License to Authorize Commercial Disposal of NORM Waste and a Permit Application Form for a Class I Injection Well.

Contact the Railroad Commission concerning the disposal of NORM waste from oil and gas exploration and production. The Low-Level Radioactive Waste Repository in Andrews County, Texas is not authorized to accept NORM waste. Some states have NORM disposal facilities for other types of NORM besides oil and gas waste or waste from public drinking-water treatment.

Related TCEQ Application Forms

Application for License to Authorize Commercial Disposal of NORM Waste, in PDF or Word

Permit Application Form and Instructions for a Class I Injection Well

Contact us if you have any questions.