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Naturally Occurring Radioactive Material (NORM) Disposal

Defines NORM and provides links to TCEQ rules and guidance relevant to the disposal of NORM in Texas.

What Is NORM?

Naturally occurring radioactive material (NORM) is found in the environment and contains radioactive elements of natural origin. NORM primarily contains uranium, thorium and in some cases potassium. Even though uranium and thorium occur naturally, by statute and rule they are defined as source 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.

NORM may be encountered either intentionally or as an undesirable secondary product of some industrial processes. Some examples include the production of oil and gas or phosphate fertilizers; mineral extraction and processing; metal recycling; waste management; and water treatment.

NORM waste, as defined by statute and rule, excludes source material or by-product material. By-product material is the waste or tailings produced by the extraction or concentration of uranium or thorium from ore. Different rules govern the use and disposal of source and by-product material. See Source Material Recovery and By-Product 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 (DSHS). NORM waste that is exempt is treated as though it is not radioactive. For more information on the exemption of NORM waste, see TCEQ publication RG-486. Please contact the Radioactive Materials Division for an electronic copy of this guide.

Why Should We Care about NORM Waste?

In general, NORM wastes contain radionuclides found in nature, such as thorium or uranium. Once these radionuclides become concentrated through human activity, they can become radioactive hazards through potential ingestion or by direct radiation exposure. Some NORM radionuclides are heavy metals which are toxic, for example, uranium is a hepatotoxin that can damage the kidneys.

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 and NORM waste is regulated primarily by individual state radiation-control programs.

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

Exemption requests for NORM waste due to low radionuclide concentrations are evaluated on a case-by-case basis by the TCEQ under 30 TAC §336.5Exit the TCEQ. In some cases, exemption by rule allows the TCEQ to exempt certain materials as provided in the DSHS rules listed under 25 TAC §289.259Exit the TCEQ for NORM and 25 TAC §289.251Exit the TCEQ for source material. If you are licensed for radioactive material under a DSHS license, contact DSHSExit the 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 waste 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 KExit the TCEQ and 30 TAC Chapter 331Exit 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 an application for a Class I Injection Well permit.

Contact the Railroad Commission concerning the disposal of NORM waste from oil and gas exploration and production. The Low-Level Radioactive Waste disposal facility in Andrews County, Texas is not authorized to accept oil and gas NORM waste for storage and processing or disposal.

Contact the Radioactive Materials Division if you have any questions.