A new citizens group says it wants to be included in settlement negotiations between the state and the company that operates the Estill County landfill where nearly 2,000 tons of radioactive waste were illegally dumped last year.
Concerned Citizens of Estill County has not been able to get information through Open Records requests about the settlement talks between Advanced Disposal, which operates the Blue Ridge Landfill, and the state Energy and Environment Cabinet, said Mary Cromer, a member of the group and a staff attorney with the Appalachian Citizens’ Law Center.
Cromer said the settlement negotiations might include remediation, or how the problem of the radioactive wastes will be corrected.
“The Concerned Citizens of Estill County believe that it is absolutely the right of the people in the county most affected to have a say in how this problem is dealt with,” Cromer said.
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Michael “Bucky” Wilson, chairman of the new nonprofit group, said it “will not accept any agreement ... that is reached behind closed doors” without the group’s participation.
In a statement, John Mura, spokesman for the state Energy and Environment Cabinet, confirmed that the cabinet “is in active discussions” with Advanced Disposal “on providing a long-term solution to the radioactive material illegally brought to the site.”
“We do understand the public’s desire to be involved,” Mura said. “I can tell you that we are evaluating the best way to gather public input into this process.”
Mura repeated that testing of the material taken to the Blue Ridge Landfill “does not indicate an imminent health risk” to workers or to the public.
Nevertheless, Wilson said the radioactive waste is a regional issue that affects residents of cities who live downstream from Estill County.
“The people who live in Richmond, Lexington, Winchester, Frankfort, they all obtain their drinking water from the Kentucky River, which is approximately a half mile from this landfill,” Wilson said. “There’s potential that this waste in the landfill could leach out and get into the water stream and their drinking water which could be contaminated.”
Group members said Estill County Fiscal Court voted earlier this week to file suit over the violation of a host agreement that prohibited out-of-state wastes from being accepted at the landfill.
“From a personal standpoint, I’d like to see the county compensated for the damages we will have to deal with,” Wilson said. “What’s in that landfill that we do not know about? What’s got in there that we were not fortunate enough to find out about?”
The waste was left at Blue Ridge Landfill, across the road from Estill County High School and Estill County Middle School. The citizens group will hold a rally, which will call for action on the dumping, from 5 to 8 p.m. July 16 at the high school football field.
Wilson said he thinks separate funds should be set aside for the relocation of the two schools; to compensate residents for any medical expenses associated with the landfill; to cover devaluations of properties near the landfill; and to compensate landfill workers for any health issues “because they have been directly exposed on a daily basis.”
State and local officials confirmed in February that low-level radioactive waste from West Virginia was dumped last year in landfills in Estill and Greenup counties.
As part of the natural gas boom, oil and gas companies use a technique called hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” in which they inject water, chemicals and agents, including sand, thousands of feet into the ground. That breaks the rock underground and frees oil, gas and natural-gas liquids including propane and butane locked in tiny pores in the rock.
The injected water and drill cuttings returning to the surface have naturally occurring radioactive material. The radioactivity is low-level, consisting of radium-226, radium-228 and radon gas, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
The Concerned Citizens of Estill County says it will seek full access “to all information in the possession of state agencies regarding the characteristics of the waste.” The group also plans to seek prosecution of any parties who have committed a crime.
Kentucky Attorney General Andy Beshear announced in March that his office is investigating the radioactive waste disposal. The attorney general’s office has the power to bring criminal charges if it finds evidence that warrants taking such action.
Terry Sebastian, a spokesman for the attorney general’s office, said Thursday that the investigation is continuing. “We are working diligently and hope to be in a position to provide information to the citizens of Estill County in the near future,” Sebastian wrote in an email.
Concerned Citizens plans to seek prompt action from state agencies when, “as was the case here, they receive advance notice from other states concerning proposed shipments of radioactive wastes” into Kentucky.
West Virginia regulators informed the Kentucky Division of Waste Management that radioactive waste would be coming into Kentucky. But Kentucky regulators say they didn’t know that the waste had actually arrived until later.
It is illegal to bring radioactive waste into Kentucky from most states. However, Kentucky accepts waste from Illinois.