Kentucky Attorney General Andy Beshear announced this week his office will be launching an investigation into the illegal disposal of radioactive waste in in Estill and Boyd counties.
On Feb. 25, the Kentucky Division of Waste Management officials confirmed radioactive waste from oil and gas drilling was brought into the state and dumped into landfills — a violation of state laws against the transport and disposal of radioactive waste from other states.
According to a release from the agency, the waste from rock and brine which is brought to the surface during drilling operations in Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Ohio was further concentrated by a West Virginia company that recycles the waste. The process increased the radionuclides and radioactivity of the waste product that found it's way into Kentucky landfills, and according to West Virginia officials, the intensity level of the waste is nearly 400 times as high as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency views as safe.
The landfill that Bevin officials claim received the more dangerous waste was in Irvine at the Blue Ridge Landfill which is operated by Advanced Disposal.
While not specifically naming which parties the office will investigate, Beshear did state in a release that his office will be giving the matter its full attention and was deeply concerned that the disposal of hazardous material occurred so close to two public school in Irvine.
“I am deeply troubled by allegations involving the transporting and illegal disposal of radioactive waste in Boyd and Estill counties. My office has launched an investigation into the matter, working closely with the Cabinet for Health and Family Services, and other state, local and federal officials. As Attorney General, protecting Kentucky families is my top priority, so I am particularly troubled that the Blue Ridge Landfill in Irvine allegedly containing these hazardous materials is located across the road from two schools. To the concerned parents in the community, I promise we are giving this investigation our full attention, and we share your concerns," the release from Beshear stated.
Estill County Judge/Executive Wallace Taylor said he has been in contact with numerous government officials as the county tries to cope with the stunning revelation. Taylor said the county has brought in a private company, who over the past few weeks in conjunction with military experts and investigators from the Cabinet for Health and Family Service, have been conducting extensive testing of the air and grounds surrounding the Blue Ridge Landfill.
So far, the judge/executive said the results have not indicated any immediate threat to the safety of Estill County citizens or students enrolled in nearby schools. The county is also investigating whether the landfill and Advanced Disposal violated a host agreement with the county by accepting the hazardous waste.
"We are looking into and requested a manifest of the last 13 months from the landfill that will tell us what is supposed to be on the delivery truck and what was accepted at the landfill," Taylor said. "We may be looking at four, or maybe, five violations of the host agreement on their part. We need to know if this was deliberate on their part or if they were unaware.
"Were they not suspicious about waste coming from West Virginia? Even if the landfill wasn't totally at fault, they could face some penalties."
According to reports from health officials, approximately 2,000 to 5,000 tons of hazardous waste were dumped into Kentucky landfills from July to November. The waste, which has been described as "sludge-like," was transported in 47 boxes each containing 25-cubic yards of the waste material.
Officials with the Cabinet for Health and Family Service and the Energy and Environment Cabinet have already sent notices of violation to the owners of the Blue Ridge Landfill. Energy and Environment Secretary Charles Snavely announced last Tuesday four violations against Advanced Disposal Service in Estill.
According to a release, an investigation showed the landfill used inaccurate reporting in its quarterly report, failed to characterize a release of TENORM (Technologically Enhanced Naturally Occurring Radioactive Material)/NORM to the environment, disposed of unpermitted waste in a contained landfill and failed to properly record the source, disposal location and quantity of spill residues and limited quantity generator hazardous wastes.
Blue Ridge Landfill and Advanced Disposal officials have continued to deny knowledge of the receipt of the hazardous waste and in a statement claimed that on reports of receipt of the material the waste "was characterized and profiled" as "non hazardous."
An official statement from Advanced Disposal stated that, "All approval processes were followed and it is potentially a criminal act if it is discovered that a genetarator or its representative falsified documentation and misrepresented the waste material composition."
Advanced Disposal claims another Kentucky business, BEX LLC, doing business as Advance TENORM Service, misrepresented the waste to landfill workers and were responsible for brokering an agreement with West Virginia waste processing plant, Fairmont Brine, to illegally collect, transport and dispose of the waste in Kentucky.
On March 4, the health cabinet sent a cease and desist letter to Advanced TENORM Service claiming the business imported, collected, transported and or deposed of radioactive oil and gas drilling waste in several Kentucky counties since June 2015. Advance TENORM could face civil fines up to $100,000 per occurrence as well as substantial criminal penalties.
Calls to the listed business number of Advanced TENORM Service have not been returned and the business's previous website has been taken down. Requests for interviews with Fairmont Brine officials have not been returned and calls to the main office line for the waste processing plant's claims that the voicemail box is full.
State regulators in West Virginia have told Kentucky regulators that the waste material had a radioactive level nearly high enough to require disposal in a low-level nuclear waste landfill. Radionuclidies in the waste generally 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, such as the Blue Ridge Landfill, are warranted for only about 30 years.
Wallace said while the investigation continues and the county and state continue to probe for answers, public safety is the number one priority for the county.
"I would lock the gates today if I was uncomfortable with what we are seeing as far as test results go," said Wallace. "I know a lot of people want the landfill to be closed for now, but we do not feel there is any immediate threat of danger to any person."
Health officials say any danger to citizens would have happened as the waste was being disposed in the landfill months ago and would only have potentially affected landfill workers who buried the waste.
Wallace said while he is grateful for the state's support in the landfill matter, he was a bit taken aback when he had to find out what was in his local landfill from the news.
"It irritated us, a bit," he admitted. "The state knew about this weeks before the county did and failed to inform us. Thankfully, now it's out in the open and we can try to handle it the best way we know how. There is going to be a lot of information to process and go through on this one and we just ask that people be patient with us."
In response to the recent illegal activity, the Kentucky House of Representatives voted unanimously Tuesday to approve House Bill 563, which calls for the energy and health cabinets to review state regulations and conclude if any changes should be made to modernize the handling of this type of waster from the oil and gas industry.
Snavely, however has already reached out to the members of the oil and gas drilling industries, Kentucky Geological Survey and the environment community requesting a meeting to review laws and recommend potential changes.