January 12, 2018

How Is NORM Regulated?

Technologically enhanced naturally occurring radioactive material (TENORM) refers to materials whose radioactivity has been technologically enhanced by controllable practices, such as mineral extraction or processing activities. Such materials include exploration and production wastes from the oil and natural gas industry, water treatment sludges, and wastes from the mining industry. TENORM does not refer to the natural or background radioactivity of rocks and soils. [64 FR 63466] (Before 1998, the term used for these materials was NORM; however, based on more current industry and regulatory practice, the term “TENORM” is considered more appropriate.)

TENORM is defined by the National Academy of Sciences as follows: “Technologically enhanced naturally occurring radioactive materials are any naturally occurring radioactive materials not subject to regulation under the Atomic Energy Act whose radionuclide concentrations or potential for human exposure have been increased above levels encountered in the natural state by human activities.” Total amounts of TENORM wastes produced in the United States may be in excess of 1 billion tons annually. [EPA/402/R-00/001] EPA has posted significant information about this material on its TENORM website.

TENORM is not regulated under the Atomic Energy Act (AEA). That fact, combined with Congress’ definition of “mixed waste” in RCRA Section 1004(41), leads to the conclusion that a TENORM waste that is also RCRA hazardous does not meet the definition of a mixed waste. [June 1, 1990; 55 FR 22645] Such a waste would, therefore, only be regulated as a hazardous waste under RCRA and not a mixed waste subject to both RCRA and the AEA. [RO 14310] The radioactive portion of TENORM, however, may be subject to state regulatory programs, which can limit your disposal options.

Disposal of TENORM is subject to the RCRA regulations if the TENORM is RCRA hazardous; this would include compliance with the land disposal restrictions (LDR) treatment standards. For the radioactive hazard, however, there are no federal waste disposal regulations specifically for TENORM wastes. Instead, numerous states have developed state regulations covering the disposal of this material. Some of these regulations are based on the suggested state regulations developed by the Conference of Radiation Control Program Directors. [Incidental TENORM: A Guidance for State Solid Waste Managers] The following table lists disposal options for TENORM waste.

Disposal Options for TENORM Waste

Type of TENORM

Disposal options

Physically solid

  • Municipal or industrial solid waste landfill, depending on radioactivity level of the particular waste, if permitted by state to accept such waste1,2
  • Hazardous waste landfill, if permitted to accept TENORM waste
  • Low-level radioactive waste landfill, licensed by the NRC or an NRC agreement state2

Physically liquid

  • Discharge to waters of the United States under an NPDES permit, if discharge meets water quality limits for radionuclides
  • Discharge to POTW, if discharge meets CWA pretreatment standards and technically-based local limits3, and if discharge meets all POTW and state permitting requirements
  • Discharge to underground injection well (typically Class I) regulated under the SDWA4

NPDES = National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System; NRC = Nuclear Regulatory Commission; POTW = publicly owned treatment works; SDWA = Safe Drinking Water Act; TENORM = Technologically enhanced naturally occurring radioactive material.

1States usually have specific radioactivity level limits/restrictions for such disposal, and the landfill may need specific state and local approval before accepting the waste.

2If TENORM is also RCRA hazardous, this option is not available unless the waste is generated by very small quantity generators.

3Technically-based local limits address problems that may result from industrial discharges into a specific wastewater treatment facility that are not covered by the national categorical standards.

4See 40 CFR 146.5(a)(3) and the definition of “radioactive waste” in 40 CFR 146.3.

Source: Adapted from EPA/816/F-06/012.


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Considerable care has been exercised in preparing this document; however, McCoy and Associates, Inc. makes no representation, warranty, or guarantee in connection with the publication of this information. McCoy and Associates, Inc. expressly disclaims any liability or responsibility for loss or damage resulting from its use or for the violation of any federal, state, or municipal law or regulation with which this information may conflict. McCoy and Associates, Inc. does not undertake any duty to ensure the continued accuracy of this information.

This document addresses issues of a general nature related to the federal RCRA regulations. Persons evaluating specific circumstances dealing with the RCRA regulations should review state and local laws and regulations, which may be more stringent than federal requirements. In addition, the assistance of a qualified professional should be enlisted to address any site-specific circumstances.