Posted 3/08/16 (Tue)
By Amy Robinson
Farmer Staff Writer
Indian Hills Disposal Solids Management LLC, an oilfield landfill located just north of Alexander, is the first facility in North Dakota to propose accepting radioactive waste under new rules. Indian Hills Disposal submitted applications to the North Dakota Department of Health to accept radioactive waste. Currently, the byproduct waste of oil development is being shipped out of state.
The oil industry generates tons of radioactive waste daily. Two years ago, state law required waste above five picocuries per gram to be shipped to approved sites in either Colorado or Idaho to be safely disposed of. The oil industry asked the Health Department several years ago to review disposal rules, citing cost.
“We are being inundated by dangerous radioactive waste and toxic chemicals,” stated Darrell Dorgan, a journalist and a documentary filmmaker, and the founder of the North Dakota Energy Industry Waste Coalition, in an interview on North Dakota as a ‘Superfund’ site. “And, unless something happens quickly, in the words of an industry leader, this could result in some big portion of northwestern North Dakota becoming a “Superfund site” – simply put, a national sacrifice zone.”
The Indian Hills Disposal facility, in McKenzie County along U.S. Highway 85, is proposing to accept waste with radioactive levels of up to 50 picocuries per gram under new Department of Health rules that took effect this year.
Staff from the Health Department plan to review the applications, which could take a minimum of two to three months. Once that takes place, public comment would be sought on the proposal.
According to Kathy Skarda, McKenzie County commissioner, there are possibly two sites seeking approval in McKenzie County.
“Two Super Sites, if approved in McKenzie County, will never be just two,” stated Skarda. “The people need to go sit on the Health Department and Governor’s steps and raise their voices so it is never given the opportunity to be approved! It’s very concerning. Darrell Dorgan seems to think residents of McKenzie County will not have a say - that it’s pretty much a done deal. Suhail Kanwar is trying to see what and if our zoning laws can prevent such sites.”
Suhail Kanwar, McKenzie County Public Works administrator/county engineer, says that the public’s perception of radioactive materials in McKenzie County is not very good. Kanwar says that as a good neighbor, Indian Hills Disposal really needs to come to the county to update the commissioners and the people as to what their plans and goals are.
“I believe that Indian Hills Disposal should come to the county and clarify what their intentions are and if there are any health risks,” stated Kanwar. “If they could explain to us what’s going on so we could understand, it might answer some questions for us and ease our residents concerns. I invite Indian Hills Disposal to come and talk to the Board of Commissioners and to share their plans with us. As a good neighbor, it’s their responsibility to come to us and talk to us.”
According to Indian Hills Disposal facility staff, the facility, which dates back to the mid-1980s, but was significantly upgraded in 2011, won’t require any design changes to their facility to be able to accept radioactive waste. The landfill will need to add some new operating procedures, including a radiation safety plan and additional training.
The facility is proposing to accept technology-enhanced, naturally-occurring radioactive material, or TENORM, which would include filter socks, tank bottoms, and sludge that falls under the state’s limit of 50 picocuries per gram.
“Tons of cancer-causing radioactive waste has been dumped in western North Dakota,” stated Dorgan. “It’s in the water we drink, the air you breathe, and the food you eat.”
There are definite safety concerns county residents have with an approved radioactive waste landfill in the county. One county resident, Dorothy Reil, told county officials that she is concerned regarding the decision over the radioactive waste landfill. She doesn’t want the county to allow the radioactive waste landfill because of safety and health concerns.
Some of the risks posed include exposure to radiation, both internally and externally, the routes of exposure and exposure limits, the load inspections, the waste placement, the unloading of trucks carrying radioactive waste, the operation procedures, and weather factors.
A legal challenge to the state rules is being considered by the North Dakota Energy Industry Waste Coalition and the Dakota Resource Council. The two groups have requested an attorney general’s opinion in October on whether the State Health Council violated the open meetings law during the process to adopt the new rules.
McKenzie County officials have reached out to the Indian Hills Disposal facility with regards to their plans. To date, no meetings have been scheduled with the county. This is an on-going issue.