Understanding, Managing, and Living with the

Health Effects of Asbestos

Used Drilling Mud Dumped in California’s Central Valley

December 13, 2013

Rancho Cordova, CA Toxic drilling mud has the potential to harm more people than the mud engineer who comes into direct contact with the substance. And while the drilling rig employee carries the most risk of inhaling floating asbestos fibers when drilling mud is mixed from its original powdered form, it’s what happens after the drilling mud is spent that has many residents of the Central Valley area of California concerned.

That’s because for years, asbestos drilling mud operators have had the capacity and permission to dump spent drilling mud into open pits in the Central Valley as regulators turned a blind eye. To that end, the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Board had, for some time, granted a waiver to oil drilling mud companies, exempting them from reporting or even regulation regarding the dumping of asbestos drilling mud into open pits.

That all changed when various environmental and consumer groups advocated to have the waiver struck down. And according to a news release issued by The Center for Biological Diversity (12/5/13), this has now occurred, with the agency voting 4-1 to allow the waiver to expire. The suggestion, as a result, is that oil and drilling companies will now have to adhere to the same regulations and reporting protocols that apply to other types of waste discharge, according to the report.

But it does not suggest an end to the dumping. And thus, will a drilling mud problem that has affected many a mud engineer having come into close contact with asbestos drilling mud be seen as transferring to a wider segment of the population through groundwater?

Many a drilling mud lawsuit has been filed by a mud engineer grappling with asbestos-related disease such as asbestosis or asbestos mesothelioma decades after actively handling asbestos or inhaling asbestos fibers without knowing the inherent dangers. Asbestos-related disease can lie dormant for decades before manifesting.

However, according to the report, drilling mud properties can include heavy metals such as aluminum, mercury, cadmium, arsenic, chromium, copper, lead, nickel and zinc, as well as radioactive materials like radium.

What’s more, according to the report, exposure to these drilling mud additives has the potential to damage the skin, eyes and other sensory organs, liver, kidney and brain, as well as the respiratory, cardiovascular, gastrointestinal, immune and nervous systems.

The concern now is that these chemicals, all part of drilling mud composition, have been slowly leaching into groundwater in the California Central Valley.

Advocates seeking to end the regulatory waiver over dumping of used oil drilling mud include the Association of Irritated Residents; the Center for Biological Diversity; the Center on Race, Poverty & the Environment; the Central California Environmental Justice Network; Physicians for Social Responsibility - Los Angeles; Communities for a Better Environment; Greenaction for Health and Environmental Justice; the San Joaquin Valley Latino Environmental Advancement Policy Project; and the Sierra Club.

The water authority agreed it needed to end the waiver, together with its previous hands-off approach to the dumping of toxic drilling mud, and to study the potential for environmental damage that can result from the discharge of drilling mud chemicals.