The destruction of the environment already impacts so many lives, with climate change already causing more intense wildfires and hurricanes across the world. Even though we’re already seeing the devastating effects of corporations’ actions, it is still incredibly difficult for climate activists to push policies forward that work to eradicate fossil fuels. My research within ECO over the past few months has brought up an adjacent issue that’s right in front of us. It’s called brine, and we need to ban it from Knox County.
Brine is a radioactive waste byproduct of oil drilling and hydraulic fracturing, commonly referred to as fracking. Some samples of Ohio brine emit 1,900 times more alpha radiation than the EPA’s safe level for drinking water. Alpha radiation, on its own, cannot penetrate the skin, but brine can attach to dust particles and be inhaled.
When ingested, brine can have devastating effects on the body. Some workers dealing with brine have reported having to quit their jobs because they become too sick to continue, suffering alarmingly high rates of sarcoma or cancer of the bone or bone marrow. Oil companies are not obligated to inform these workers that they are dealing with radioactive material.
Almost all brine is returned underground through injection wells. There are 225 in Ohio —one of which is 15 minutes from Kenyon and close to the Kokosing River — compared to seven in all of Pennsylvania. Last year, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) found instances of brine leaking from injection wells to oil wells and potentially to drinking water sources. Once brine leaches into drinking water, there is no way to extract it; anyone without an alternative water source has to ingest the radioactive water.
In Ohio, 29 counties legally use brine as a de-icing agent instead of rock salt, though its effectiveness is matched by mixing salt and water that are not radioactive. It is not only legal for municipalities to spread brine, but also to sell it to the general public. If House Bill 545 passes, ODNR would lose its regulatory power of the sale of brine. This bill was introduced in March 2020 and threatens to remove liability from oil companies and require less disclosure on lab tests.
Kenyon, the Village of Gambier and Mount Vernon do not spread brine on city streets, but it is spread on county and state roads in Knox County. This is happening in our state and county, which makes it our responsibility. Everyone must recognize the urgency of this public health situation, and join ECO in an effort to ban brine spreading in Knox County. Call on Knox County officials to oppose spreading brine on our roads. Fight brine spreading by calling members of the Ohio House of Representatives Energy and Natural Resources Committee to reject House Bill 545. This is yet another reason to vote in this election — so we can elect representatives who put public health above the oil industry.
Please join ECO Sundays at 4 p.m. in this fight against a harmful public health issue.