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County residents taking their concerns over radioactive waste to Bismarck

Posted 8/02/16 (Tue)

By Jack Dura
Farmer Staff Writer

While driving her school bus, Cathy Omstead has seen blowing radon dust, she said.
“I really believe that is one of the biggest problems with having the disposal right there, blowing across the land,” the Tri Township resident said of Indian Hills Disposal Solids Management’s landfill north of Alexander.
Omstead lives near the landfill, a site designated for radioactive waste generated from North Dakota’s oilfields. Seven months ago, after state approval, the allowable level of radiation in disposal sites for technologically enhanced naturally occurring radioactive material went from five to 50 picocuries.
Omstead and other members of the Citizens Against Increased Radioactive Waste are planning a trip to Bismarck for a state health council meeting at 9 a.m. Tuesday, Aug. 9 at the state capitol. Four or five people have confirmed they are going.
The meeting is a do-over after the Attorney General’s office, Energy Industry Waste Coalition and Dakota Resource Council agreed that the council failed to provide adequate public notice of the meeting. A lawsuit is active against the health council for creating the waste program at the illegal meeting.
Public comment may be allowed at the meeting if the chair allows it.
The issue of radioactive material has been important to Larry Novak, who lives six miles from the IHD landfill in Tri Township.
Fifteen sites in northwestern North Dakota have been identified as locations for disposing of TENORM in North Dakota, Novak said. Five are in McKenzie County.
One comparison in particular of the TENORM levels struck a chord with him.
“Chris Kreger at the IHD Solids up here said that raising the levels to 50 picocuries is no different than what a banana peel contains,” Novak said. “I’d rather have 12,500 pounds of banana peels on my farm than 12,500 pounds of radioactive material.”
The McKenzie County Farmer contacted Kreger for an interview regarding his comparison but he referred questions to another landfill official who did not return the call.
Scott Radig, director of the state health department’s division of waste management, clarified Kreger’s comparison of radiation levels in banana peels and even granite countertops, and said it may be fair but “you can make whatever comparison you like.”
“Fifty picocuries is higher than banana peels. Banana peels may be around five. That would have been the old limit,” Radig said. “Granite, depending on where it’s from, can be anywhere from 20, 30, 40 picocuries.”
North Dakota’s new level is not as extreme as other states, he added. Talks are ongoing to increase levels to 270 picocuries at a Montana landfill. Idaho and Colorado both accept limits of 1,000 picocuries.
“Our limit of 50 here is actually really low,” Radig said.
As for radioactive dust blowing off the IHD landfill, Radig challenged what Omstead said.
“I don’t know how she could see it was radon dust or radioactive dust,” he said, as dust blows off gravel roads and landfills if conditions are dry enough.
“Dust at any landfill is a concern and we do have requirements for that,” Radig said. “Her claim that it’s radioactive I believe have no basis in fact.”
Omstead said a smell comes off the landfill too, enough to make her eyes water.
Novak added IHD has withdrawn its permit to increase radiation levels to 50 picocuries, but the landfill still accepts material at five picocuries.
A Williams County permit is still active, however, he said.
The disposal of radioactive waste and last spring’s test near Rugby to examine the feasibility of bore holes for disposing of nuclear waste do leave the question if North Dakota is becoming a dumping ground for dangerous waste.
Radig said the sites in northwestern North Dakota only accept waste generated in that area. Increasing picocuries tenfold isn’t necessarily indicative of health risks, he added, as time and distance of exposure are factors.
“Picocuries in and of its self is not indicative of health risk,” he said.
Omstead said the radiation issue should be a statewide concern as Lake Sakakawea and even Fargo could be impacted by northwestern North Dakota’s radioactive waste.
“It makes me wonder,” she said.