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Origins of NORM (Naturally Occurring Radioactive Materials)

During the course of a day, nearly everyone is exposed to low levels of radiation from both man-made and natural sources. Whether from x-rays, microwaves, or the sun, encountering radiation is unavoidable. Naturally occurring radioactive material, commonly known as NORM, includes all radioactive elements found organically in the environment.

While health risks from exposure to low levels of NORM are minimal, the extraction and production of oil, natural gas, or minerals can cause NORM to accumulate in hazardous concentrations.

NORM is produced during the natural decay process of uranium and thorium in the earth's crust. These elements and their decay chain products, known as daughter products, are unstable elements that emit radiation as they decay. Of the many radioactive isotopes produced during this process, the oil and gas industry generally measures only three: Radium 226, Radium 228, and Radon 222. These are the longest-lived elements in decay chains and can produce up to twenty radioactive daughters.

Radioactive isotopes will continue to decay until they become a stable isotope. In the case of radium, a non-radioactive form of lead is the final stable isotope.

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