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County: State needs better monitoring of radioactive waste

Posted 5/17/16 (Tue)

By Amy Robinson
Farmer Staff Writer

McKenzie County officials aren’t happy with the way that the North Dakota Dept. of Health is monitoring the landfills in the state that are accepting radioactive waste. And with the state now considering a rule change that would allow a 10-fold increase, from five to 50 picocuries of radioactive material, to be deposited into specially-approved landfills, local officials aired their concerns to state officials during a TENORM education workshop held in Watford City on Wednesday, May 11.
“You guys need to look at the pictures,” stated Doug Nordby, McKenzie County commissioner, with regard to a photo showing material blowing off the top of the Indian Hills Disposal waste facility near Alexander. “The photos, from what I’ve seen, show an issue that needs to be monitored and addressed. You guys need to look at that picture. You guys aren’t monitoring it.”
North Dakota Department of Health (NDDH) officials noted that they had also seen the photo and that the dust seen blowing in it was dust from the roads.
“The photo shows the dust coming right off the top of the hill, not the road,” added Nordby. “The issue is that people are inhaling that stuff. Does that mean the facility needs to move, or the size of the facility needs to change? I don’t know, but I know that is radioactive dust and it needs to be monitored and addressed.”
Also echoing Nordby’s concern was Suhail Kanwar, McKenzie County Public Works director.
“I’m not sure how you guys decided to go from five to 50 picocuries, but as a community member, it’s really alarming for us here in McKenzie County,” stated Kanwar.
But to many of the attendees, which included producers, transporters, and disposers of TENORM, they had a much different view of the danger in increasing the level of radioactive material being deposited into the landfill.
“Who here ate a banana this morning?” asked Jordan Becker, Republic Services/Tervita, LLC landfill manager. “Well for those of you who don’t know, one single banana pill has seven picocuries and one brazilian nut has 12 picocuries.”
Becker’s explanation of his understanding of picocuries didn’t sit well with two of the attendees in the room. He wasn’t received well by Vawnita Best, McKenzie County commissioner.
“With all due respect, I take great offense to someone saying a banana peel is only seven picocuries, when we are talking on a much larger scale about radioactive activity in landfills,” stated Hovet. “We have the state pushing one agenda and the people pushing another agenda and somewhere in the middle lies what’s right.”
Bringing some dialogue and education on radioactive waste was one of the reasons that the North Dakota Solid Waste & Recycling Association along with officials from the North Dakota Department of Health (NDDH) were in Watford City to discuss the new rule, which went into effect on Jan. 1, 2016.
“We want people to walk away with a better understanding of how stringent our rules are,” stated Scott Radig, NDDH Waste Management Division director. “Our entire goal throughout this process is to ensure the public’s safety, and we’ve followed the best science out there to do that.”
According to Radig, all of its information is sent to Argonne National Laboratory, which is a science and engineering research national laboratory operated by UChicago Argonne LLC for the United States Department of Energy. Based on their recommendations, the agency moves forward.
“The laboratory said 50 picocuries was a safe level for landfill workers, and therefore, a healthy level for anyone else,” stated Radig. “That is why the NDDH allowed the 10-fold increase in the level of radioactivity accepted in waste disposed of in special North Dakota landfills.
Radig said one of the biggest rule changes that went into effect this year is a tracking system that follows waste from generation to disposal.
“We currently don’t have any facilities in the state that is accepting 50 picocuries, so the waste is currently going out of state,” said Brooke Olson, Health Physicist with the Radiation Control Program for the NDDH. “And we have to know where the waste is going, That has to be reported to us.”
According to Diana Trussell of the NDDH Waste Management Division, the rule change, which would increase radioactive levels from five to 50 picocuries, only applies to oilfield special waste landfills and the state’s large-volume industrial waste landfill in Sawyer. The rules prohibit TENORM from entering any of the state’s municipal and inert waste landfills.
“Landfills that are interested and eligible in raising their limits will have to apply for a major permit modification before accepting TENORM,” Trussell stated. “And they will only be allowed a maximum tonage of 25,000 tons per year with a maximum radioactive concentration of 50 picocuries per gram.”