Image by Justin Nobel Image by Justin Nobel

Downstream Radioactivity: What on Earth Is Coming Out of the Pipes?

Moderated by Justin Nobel 5th April 2023


America’s fracking boom is roaring into its third decade and shows no sign of slowing. The industry’s promoters have assured this oil and gas extraction technique would be safe for communities. “America will develop this resource without putting the health and safety of our citizens at risk,” President Barack Obama declared in his 2012 State of the Union Address. But has this really happened?

Inspired by a bombshell Truthdig article published in January, “Growing List of Fracking Concerns Now Includes Radioactivity,” Truthdig is proud to present a webinar on one of the more overlooked aspects of oil and gas development — that radioactivity is brought to the surface with natural gas and oil production and travels through America’s natural gas pipeline and oil refining systems. Little-known industry documents suggest radioactivity is being released into the air and adjacent communities, at compressor stations, petrochemical plants and oil refineries. Now for the first time, teams of scientists and health experts are examining the issue and collecting data.

Downstream Radioactivity: What on Earth is Coming out of the Pipes? provides a unique opportunity for advocacy groups, legislators, government regulators, oil and gas industry workers, and residents and community members across the country to learn about this issue, the health concerns, the latest science, how some communities are fighting back and holding industry accountable and steps you can take to raise awareness in your own communities and among your own networks.


Science journalist, moderator

Nobel writes on issues of science and the environment for U.S. magazines, investigative sites and literary journals. His 2020 feature with Rolling Stone magazine, “America’s Radioactive Secret,” was the result of a two-year investigation into the radioactivity brought to the surface in oil and gas production and the harms posed to the industry’s workers, the environment, the public and communities; it was awarded Best Narrative Feature with the National Association of Science Writers. He is writing a book on the topic of oilfield radioactivity for Simon & Schuster, due to be published in spring 2024.

Wayne State University geologist and radon expert – Speaking about research conducted in the Marcellus/Utica shale region involving radioactive emissions at downstream oil and gas infrastructure including pipelines and compressor stations

Baskaran is a tenured full-time professor and chair in the Department of Environmental Science and Geology at Wayne State University (Detroit), where he teaches both introductory level courses in oceanography, meteorology and physical geology. He has published over 162 peer-reviewed articles and edited a two-volume Handbook entitled “Handbook of Environmental Isotope Geochemistry.” Baskaran also published a monograph on radon entitled “Radon: A Tracer for Geological, Geophysical and Geochemical Studies.”

University of Pittsburgh radiation oncologist – Speaking about health risks associated with oil and gas industry’s radioactive emissions, the various radioactive elements involved, and the research she is currently involved with on the topic

Haley, M.D., MPH, is a clinical assistant professor of radiation oncology at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. She specializes in the treatment of breast and gynecological cancers.

Consultant with Physicians for Social Responsibility Pennsylvania – Speaking about experience catching a radioactive cloud of emissions on her motorcycle that may have been connected to a purging event on the nearby natural gas liquids pipeline, and the informal network of residents she has setup across southern and southeastern Pennsylvania to help monitor for these concerning pipeline-related blowdown and emissions events

DiGiulio is an avid lover of nature, a water protector and Pennsylvania resident near Marsh Creek Lake. She also co-founded the Watchdogs of South-Eastern Pennsylvania (WaSEPA) and the Better Path Coalition, and has been actively opposed to Energy Transfer’s Mariner East pipeline system and the fossil fuel industry. She presently works as an analyst with Physicians for Social Responsibility Pennsylvania.

Medical advocacy director with Physicians for Social Responsibility Pennsylvania – Speaking on considerable efforts her organization has made to inform and spotlight this issue across oil and gas country through a series of virtual and in-person talks and town hall style events, and also ongoing research efforts on the issue, and work done to link residents and scientists and inform regulatory action

Murphy has worked as an educator, a special health projects assistant, a volunteer, an advocate, a program director, an executive director, a medical outreach coordinator and a consultant. Above all else, she is passionate about justice and the intersection of law and social movements.

Colorado atmospheric scientist and air pollution expert – Speaking on data his team is presently collecting at an oil refinery in Denver, Colorado which involves the first ever continual real-time monitoring of oil and gas industry radioactive emissions

Helmig’s research focuses on surface-atmosphere gas exchange, atmospheric chemistry and atmospheric transport. He is presently studying local and regional air quality in relation to oil and gas operations in Colorado, monitoring that reflects a series of novel instrumental and data processing advancements that facilitate the near-real time reporting of primary air pollutants at a public website. He is presently editor-in-chief of the Atmospheric Science Domain, Elementa – Science of the Anthropocene.

Former emergency medicine and palliative care physician and Virginia-based member of Physicians for Social Responsibility – Speaking about continued efforts to bring attention to regulators and industry looking to construct the Mountain Valley Pipeline on point of radioactive emissions and radioactive sludge and scale buildup within the pipeline, issues that are presently a regulatory black hole

Smusz is a retired physician with masters degrees in public health and community health education. Her recent efforts have been publicizing health threats posed by high pressure methane transmission lines carrying hydraulically fractured gas. An M.D. since 1986, she practiced emergency medicine for 15 years before retraining in the specialty of palliative care serving people with advanced life-limiting illness. As a hospice medical director she served many people who succumbed to pollutants from work settings and the environment.

Informed resident – Speaking on an exceptional letter-writing campaign he has undertaken, with the help of many others, to raise considerable awareness to state and federal regulators on the issue of downstream oilfield radioactivity and hold these agencies appropriately accountable

Limpert works on issues of Stormwater Management for Maryland’s National Capital Park and Planning Commission, and Montgomery County’s Department of Environmental Protection. He is a member of the Allegheny-Blue Ridge Alliance in opposition to the Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP), and has also worked to hold industry and regulators accountable on the Mountain Valley Pipeline.