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AS I SEE IT

Posted 9/06/16 (Tue)

By Neal A. Shipman
Farmer Editor

Alexander area residents who have been opposing the North Dakota Dept. of Health’s decision to increase the level of radioactive material that is accepted at landfills in the state from five to 50 picocuries now have even more reason to be concerned.
This past week it was reported that a State Health Dept. survey discovered that nearly 950 tons of radioactive waste between five and 80 picocuries were being stored at the Indian Hills Disposal Solids Management’s landfill north of Alexander. The survey was part of an effort by the department’s waste management division to test all 12 oil waste landfills operating in the state to determine how they are complying under the permits they have now, which prohibit anything greater than five picocuries.
Obviously, this discovery is very alarming. At a time when the State of North Dakota was considering increasing the level of accepted picocuries, these landfills were either knowingly or unknowingly accepting oil field waste well in excess of existing state standards.
So the question that begs to be answered is who is monitoring the levels of radioactive waste that is being accepted into these landfills? Is it the responsibility of the landfill? Or is it the responsibility of the State Health Department?
The answer is both!
Ultimately, it is the responsibility of the landfill that is accepting the radioactive waste to ensure that they are in compliance with state standards. The argument that the landfill did not know the level of radioactive waste that was being brought to them is unacceptable.
And if the State Health Department is going to set acceptable levels of picocuries, then it must accept the burden of responsibility for the continual inspection of these landfills. If that means monthly inspections, so be it.
One would like to believe that the landfills in North Dakota that want to accept radioactive waste would do whatever it takes to make sure that they are in compliance with state rules. But as we know all too well, there will always be those who will try to bend the rules and then beg for forgiveness when caught.
It may be costly for these landfill operators to install the necessary equipment to ensure that no waste in excess of state standards is accepted. But in reality those costs will ultimately be borne by their customers - namely the oil field companies that are generating the radioactive waste.
Just as when North Dakotans and the State of North Dakota became alarmed when radioactive socks were being illegally dumped in vacant buildings, road ditches, fields and public landfills in western North Dakota, a system was developed that ensured the tracking of those socks back to the oil field company.
A similar system must be developed for these private landfills that are now accepting large volumes of radioactive waste.
As good corporate citizens, it behooves these companies to meet and work with local government and residents who are living near these landfills to ensure that safety is their number one concern.
And likewise, it is the State Health Department’s responsibility to ensure to the citizens of the state that these facilities are being consistently monitored. And when they are in violation, they must face a heavy penalty and possible closure.