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Hamilton, I S.; Arno, M G.; Rock, J C.; Berry, R O.; Poston, J W. Sr; Cezeaux, J R.; Park, J -M.*

doi: 10.1097/01.HP.0000128580.09991.05

Petroleum pipe scale, consisting of concentrated inorganic solids such as barium sulfate, can deposit on the inside of down-hole pipes during the normal course of oil field pumping operations. A portion of this scale has been shown to contain naturally occurring radioactive materials (NORM), predominantly compounds of radium. When these pipes are removed from the well, there is a potential for radiation doses to the oil field workers handling the pipes, especially as the pipes are cleaned for reuse. A thorough sampling and measurement protocol was applied under a variety of weather conditions in an outdoor laboratory to obtain an accurate indication of the radiological and aerodynamic characteristics of scale release and dust dispersion during petroleum pipe scale removal from out-of-service pipes with a restored, historically relevant outdoor pipe-cleaning machine. Exposure rate data were also obtained for both the pre-cleaned pipes, and the general area inhabited by workers during the descaling operation. Four radiation exposure pathways were investigated: inhalation of pipe scale dust generated during pipe rattling, incidental ingestion of the pipe scale dust, external exposure from uncleaned pipes, and external exposure from pipe scale dispersed on the ground. Pipes from three oil fields were rattled to collect as much industry-representative data as possible. The 226Ra specific activity of the pipe scale ranged from 33.6 ± 0.4 to 65.5 ± 0.7 Bq g−1, depending on the formation. A median atmospheric dust loading of 0.13 mg m−3 was measured in the operator breathing zone. The respirable fraction was observed to be about 42% to 46%. Based on cleaning 20 pipes per day,250 d per year on average, annual committed effective doses for the operator and helper ranged from 0.11 mSv (11 mrem) to 0.45 mSv(45 mrem) for inhalation and from 19 μSv (1.9 mrem) to 97 μSv (9.7mrem) for incidental ingestion. Worker annual external dose from thepipe racks ranged from 0 to 0.28 mSv (28 mrem). In the deposition experiment, more than 99% by weight of the deposited scale fell within 2 m of the machine centerline, the vast majority of which was in the downwind direction. The dose from this deposited material dominated the worker dose estimates. The annual external dose from dispersed material was estimated to be 2.8 mSv (280 mrem) for the operator and 4.1 mSv (410 mrem) for the helper.

* Department of Nuclear Engineering, Texas A&M University, College Station, TX 77843-3133.

For correspondence or reprints contact: I. S. Hamilton, Department of Nuclear Engineering, Texas A&M University, 129 Zachary 3133 TAMUS, College Station, TX 77843-3133, or email at

(Manuscript received 3 November 2003; revised manuscript received 18 March 2004, accepted 23 June 2004)

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