Occupational NORM Hazards

What Does NORM Stand For?

NORM is an acronym for Naturally Occurring Radioactive Material. NORM exists in very low concentrations all around us because of radioactive elements found in the natural environment. NORM can be found in rocks and sand in the earth’s surface and it travels to the earth’s surface due to natural processes. For example, radon gas moving through cracks in rocks or dissolving and being transported by ground water flows. Examples of these elements are uranium, thorium, potassium. The decay of these elements produces radioactive materials called isotopes like Radium-226 or Radon-222.  

Why is NORM Harmful?

The main concern with NORM is radiation. Some human activities that bring NORM to the surface may cause NORM to become more concentrated than its natural state. For example, coal ash from coal-burning power plants contains a more concentrated form of NORM than the coal did when it was taken from the ground. Because NORM is radioactive, once it is brought to the surface or concentrated, the ionizing radiation that it emits can now interact with humans.

How Does NORM Exposure Harm My Body? 

The primary health risk of concern when dealing with NORM, is the potential for developing cancers, as the ionizing radiation that it emits is a known carcinogen. When exposure to ionizing radiation increases so does the risk of developing cancer. Cellular changes from ionizing radiation may also cause genetic damage or birth defects. Pregnant workers are also warned to minimize their exposure to NORM as radiation increases the risk of cancer to the growing fetus.  

Who Needs To Be Concerned About NORM Hazards in the Workplace?

Some industries may regularly come into contact with NORM – for instance, those engaged in the production of: 

  • Oil and gas
  • Phosphate fertilizers
  • Forest products and thermal electricity
  • Mineral extraction and processing
  • Tunnelling and underground workings
  • Metal recycling
  • Waste management
  • Water treatment

NORM is a natural contaminant of oil and natural gas activities. It can accumulate in process equipment used for exploration, production, processing and transportation or storage operations. It can also be found in oil and gas production residue (such as mineral scale in pipes, sludge and contaminated equipment). 

How to Prevent NORM Exposure in the Workplace

If you work in an oil and gas related industry you should be aware of NORM when handling waste generated from crude oil and natural gas facilities. NORM exposure in the oil and gas industry poses a problem to workers particularly during maintenance, waste transport and processing. Contact Chemscape Technologies today to learn how we can provide your business with a NORM exposure control plan. 


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