Kentucky’s Department for Public Health is seeking millions of dollars in penalties from companies blamed for bringing radioactive drilling waste into Kentucky last year.
In all, $8.2 million in civil penalties are being levied against eight companies and one individual that officials say are responsible for the dumping of out-of-state radioactive waste in landfills located in Estill and Greenup counties. Among the orders of civil penalties issued by the health department:
“State laws prohibit the disposal of radioactive material from out-of-state companies in Kentucky landfills,” said Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services Secretary Vickie Yates Brown Glisson. “The Cabinet is imposing significant penalties against all those responsible for the illegal activity.”
The monetary amounts of the fines depended on the number of violations discovered, officials said.
The penalties are the result of illegal activity discovered in two landfills in early 2016 and target the processors, transporters and brokers responsible for the transfer of these materials into Kentucky landfills, the health cabinet said. Evidence shows the activity began as early as May 2015 and involved the illegal transport and disposal of what’s called technologically enhanced naturally occurring radioactive material, or TENORM, which is a concentrated byproduct of drilling for oil and gas using hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.
Hoskins, who state records show as the owner of Advanced TENORM Services, was hit hardest by fines, accounting for more than half the penalties sought. He could not be reached for comment. A Bingham Greenebaum Doll attorney who has represented him in a related legal matter in Estill County did not immediately return a request for comment.
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Most of the attention has focused on the Advanced Disposal’s Blue Ridge landfill in Estill County, where the riskiest waste was said to be dumped. But officials earlier this year said they were also investigating shipments to the Green Valley Landfill in Greenup County, and shipments there were linked to some of the new fines. Monday, the state health authorities also sought to assure people that they do not believe the public was put at risk at either location.
Cabinet officials on Monday also said they agreed with a new report that has concluded the dumping of the fracking waste at the Estill County landfill posed no risk to landfill workers or anyone nearby when it was being dumped.
“The report was commissioned by the landfill, after receiving strong encouragement to do so,” said Doug Hogan, spokesman for the cabinet. “We support the report’s findings.”
Penalties are still being sought against the companies involved in importing the waste because that practice is illegal, Hogan said.
Louisivlle attorney Tom FitzGerald, director of the Kentucky Resources Council, said the fines are a good way to let other businesses know they cannot get away with breaking the law. “We can’t stop and monitor every single shipment of industrial waste that comes into the commonwealth,” he said.
News of the fines broke just hours before the leadership of both the health cabinet and the Energy and Environment Cabinet were scheduled to meet Monday evening with Estill County residents. Many of those residents have been concerned about waste, which came from drilling operations in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia.
Mary Cromer, a lawyer who has been assisting the residents, said the group she represents is trying to raise money for an independent review of the Estill dump risk study. “There are always going to be questions about credibility” when such a study is commissioned, she said.
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Officials from both cabinets have said for months that the landfill poses no threat to its workers or to nearby schools because the waste was buried. But Comer said she has still had some concerns about landfill workers, garbage haulers or individuals who may have been at the landfill while the waste was being emptied and spread around.
The report by RAC Risk Assessment Corp. commissioned by Advanced Disposal’s Blue Ridge Landfill near Irvine concludes those people were not put in harm’s way.
“This assessment has demonstrated that the doses received by the works on the site and to the public from the disposal of the (fracking waste) are minimal compared to radiation exposure they receive from natural and other man-made causes,” the report concluded.
Any landfill workers would have only had contact with the waste for “a fraction of the workday,” probably just 15 minutes per disposal load, according to the study. Anyone working in a bulldozer would have been inside an enclosed cab with air filters, it concluded.
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The waste contained radium 226, with a half-life of 1,600 years, the time it takes for half its radioactivity to decay. Municipal landfills typically have protective liners guaranteed for 30 or 40 years, so Fitzgerald said there still are concerns about managing it for the long-term.
The energy cabinet has invited the public to comment through Nov. 21 on an agreement it’s reached with Advanced Disposal, which includes a $95,000 penalty to be spent by the Blue Ridge Landfill on the school monitoring and other environmental programs. More than 1,000 cubic yards of radioactive waste was dumped at the Estill landfill from July through November 2015, officials have said.
State officials are still in talks with the company that owns the Green Valley Landfill – Green Valley Landfill General Partnership – over alleged violations involving radioactive waste dumping there, said John Mura, energy cabinet spokesman.
A task force has been working on developing new regulations for the handling of radioactive drilling wastes including waste generated in Kentucky.
Reach reporter James Bruggers at (502) 582-4645 and at [email protected]
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