by Daryl Slusher

According to the Texas Department of State Health Services (TDSHS) a truck containing a “radiographic camera, an industrial device that contains radioactive material” was swept into the Pedernales River by flood waters on Friday May 29. A TDSHS press release explains, “The camera, owned by Shawcor and commonly used in the oil and gas industry, went missing when a truck with a slide-in camper containing a mobile darkroom was swept away in the floodwaters of the Pedernales River southeast of Fredericksburg.” TDSHS assured, “The material is sealed within multiple layers of protection, and the risk of exposure is very low.”

Shawcor is a contractor on the Permian Highway Pipeline. The lead company on the pipeline is Kinder Morgan which confirmed that Shawcor is a contractor. The pipeline would run through much of the Texas Hill Country, including just south of Dripping Springs.

Container for type of radiographic camera that went into Pedernales River; from TDSHS press release, as is the map at the top of this post.

The truck was discovered about 10 miles downstream from where it went into the water, but the camera and its protective container were not inside. The camera was found further downstream on Sunday — just upstream from the LBJ Ranch. Again, from a TDSHS press release: “The camera, a piece of industrial equipment that contains a sealed capsule of radioactive material, was located just east of North River Road near Stonewall. The camera was whole and contained in its protective steel overpack box with no release of radiation.” 

The press release continues, “The Texas Department of State Health Services, which licenses radioactive materials and equipment, is investigating the incident to determine whether there were violations of state laws or rules and will take appropriate enforcement action.”

A Shawcor representative said, “We’re pleased we were able to recover the camera and certainly appreciate the work of local authorities and all their efforts as a result of the flash flood incident.” The spokesperson, Paul Pierroz, added that the company is “extremely confident” that no radiation was released into the river.

While it is beyond relief that there was apparently no leakage, it is never a good thing having a canister containing radioactive material floating in a river along where people draw water and swim — a river that is a tributary to the water supply of a million people, that is the Colorado River/Lake Travis and Lake Austin. 

Map from Wimberley Valley Watershed Association

The incident amplifies multiple concerns expressed by opposition groups, Hays County residents and others about the pending pipeline. As the group Wimberley Valley Watershed Association states on their website, “This pipeline will be transporting 2.1 billion cubic feet of fracked gas on a daily basis! Along the route, the pipeline will cross rivers, creeks, karst aquifer recharge zones, the habitats of endangered species, and will come into very close proximity to some of our beloved springs, including Jacob’s Well.”

The Austin Independent will continue to report on this story. 

This story was updated to include statements from Shawcor representatives.

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