An estimated 1,600 to 1,800 tons of low-level radioactive waste was illegally dumped in an Estill County landfill, and now state officials are warning other solid-waste operators not to accept any of the material.
The waste was generated in Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia and then shipped to Kentucky for disposal, said Tony Hatton, director of the Kentucky Division of Waste Management.
The waste was not generated from a nuclear plant, Hatton said. Rather, it is a common, naturally occurring material resulting from oil and gas-drilling activities. When it is processed to recover brine, the radionuclides present in the soil and rocks become concentrated.
“This is not high-level waste ... but it certainly should not have been disposed in this landfill,” Hatton said Thursday. “I don’t know if the landfill was aware of it or not.”
Some other low-level radioactive waste might also have gone to a Greenup County landfill, he said.
Hatton sent out a notice this week to solid-waste facility owners and operators to be on the lookout for such waste.
Kentucky officials learned about the waste through a contractor and a regulatory counterpart in West Virginia, Hatton said. The material was processed in Fairmont, W.Va.
“We learned that a company called Advanced TENORM Services had brokered and arranged for this material to be brought to Blue Ridge Landfill in Estill County,” Hatton said. “As best we know, there were 47 sealed containers of this material brought to Estill County.
“If you were to lift the top off a box, it would look like a box full of mud with some water in it,” Hatton said.
The material came to Kentucky from July through November last year, he said. It is illegal to bring such waste into Kentucky from most other states. However, Kentucky has an agreement that allows waste to come in from Illinois.
Some corrective action and fines might be required after further investigation, Hatton said.
“The greatest potential for exposure would have happened when the material was shipped” to Estill County and managed there, he said.
In a statement Thursday, Advanced Disposal, which owns and operates the Estill County landfill, said the material “was characterized and profiled” as “non-hazardous.”
“All approval processes were followed, and it is potentially a criminal act if it is discovered that a generator or its representative falsified documentation and misrepresented the waste material composition,” the statement said.
“The company believes that there has been no risk to human health and environment and looks forward to bring closure to this event and to continue the safe and environmentally sound operations of the landfill.”
The state is trying to determine whether the material poses a public health problem, Hatton said. He said he doesn’t believe the material poses much of “an imminent threat or danger” now that it has been buried at the landfill.
It is possible the material might be dug up and removed, “but there could be risks associated with digging it up,” Hatton said. “But that may not outweigh the potential risks of leaving it there.”
Matthew McKinley, branch manager for the Radiation Health Branch of the state Division of Public Health Protection, could not be immediately reached Thursday for comment.