Nuclear Waste Illegally Dumped in Kentucky Landfill

Radioactive drilling waste was illegally dumped at a landfill in Kentucky, according to state officials. Now, they’re issuing warnings and investigating how the nuclear waste ended up at the dump site.

State officials confirmed this week that low-level nuclear waste was illegally dumped at the Blue Ridge Landfill in Irvine, Ky., last year.

The material came from rock and brine extracted in oil and gas drilling operations in Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia. The process concentrated naturally-occurring radionuclicides. The material was further concentrated after being recycled by Fairmont Brine Processing of West Virginia.

Kentucky Division of Waste Management Director Tony Hatton says this is the material that made its way to Irvine between July and November 2015.

State officials say the material came in 47 sealed boxes each with 25 cubic feet of material.
The Blue Ridge Landfill is not equipped to legally handle even this low-level radioactive material. State officials say they are working with landfill managers to see how the material was handled, and whether any workers or others were affected. A middle school and high school are located across Highway 89 from the landfill.

Hatton doubts there is any ongoing exposure at the dumpsite.

“The best we know, the material has been buried since November,” Hatton said.

State officials sent warnings to landfill operators throughout the state to watch out for the material and to not accept it. They are also investigating a possible shipment of similar material to a landfill in Greenup County.

“Legal action against the firm that engaged in the illegal dumping and the landfill that accepted the contaminated material is under review,” reads an advisory letter sent this week to state waste-management departments. 

“We are working with the state and trying to determine who’s on first base,” said Charles Law, general manager of Blue Ridge Landfill.
Law told the Courier Journal that the issue was being handled by players higher up the corporate latter, but admitted there were “gray areas” in the investigation into how the waste got to the landfill.

When asked if the company knew the material was radioactive when it accepted it, he said “We accepted it under normal landfill practices.”

Radionuclidies in the waste have a half-life of more than 1,000 years. This is the amount of time required for half of the atoms in radioactive substance to disintegrate. Liners typically used in
municipal solid waste landfills are warranted for about 30 years.

Waste disposal expert Tom FitzGerald said that any landfills that accepted the waste would have to extend the length of time operators are responsible for any pollution to account for long-lived radionuclicides.

 

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