Editorials

Even stiff fines no substitute for criminal charges in illegal dumping of fracking waste

Out-of-state radioactive material was illegally taken to Blue Ridge Landfill in Estill County, across Ky. 89 from Estill County High School and Middle School. The state announced civil penalties Monday for those involved in dumping, transporting and brokering the waste that went to Estill and Greenup counties.
Out-of-state radioactive material was illegally taken to Blue Ridge Landfill in Estill County, across Ky. 89 from Estill County High School and Middle School. The state announced civil penalties Monday for those involved in dumping, transporting and brokering the waste that went to Estill and Greenup counties. gkocher1@herald-leader.com

Anyone thinking of illegally using Kentucky to dump radioactive fracking waste from other states will no doubt reconsider in light of fines announced this week by the Bevin administration.

The state is seeking $5.3 million in penalties against the individual and his company who officials say orchestrated the illegal dumping of almost 2,000 tons of out-of-state radioactive drilling waste in municipal landfills in Estill and Greenup counties.

In addition to the $2.65 million apiece sought from Cory Hoskins and his West Liberty company, the Cabinet for Health and Family Services also is seeking more than $3 million total from seven other companies, including an Ashland trucking company and scrap yard where sawdust was mixed with the radioactive liquid that originated in West Virginia and Ohio before the resulting sludge was trucked to the Kentucky landfills.

While we applaud the deterrent effect of the hefty civil penalties, we still cannot understand why Attorney General Andy Beshear is not pursuing criminal charges.

In that we’re not alone. Several speakers at a public meeting at Estill County High School Monday night expressed puzzlement at the lack of criminal charges.

After hearing presentations from state environmental and public health officials, Paul Rosile, an assistant professor of environmental health science at Eastern Kentucky University, said it seems clear there was criminal intent. Indeed, Hoskins was informed the month before his company began shipping out-of-state radioactive waste to the Estill County landfill that doing so would be a felony, via email by a Kentucky public health official.

Also, Hoskins signed false manifests that were filed with the landfill. The waste’s level of radioactivity was too high for disposal in West Virginia. Trucking it across the country to a landfill suitable for low-level radioactive waste would have cost much more than illegally dumping it in Kentucky.

Beshear, who did not send a representative to the Estill meeting, announced in July that his investigation had found insufficient evidence to pursue criminal charges. He should reconsider. As several speakers pointed out, the principals may escape accountability by going out of business or declaring bankruptcy.

While the proposed fines are an important milepost, hard work remains. Advanced Disposal, the Florida-based company that owns landfills in Estill and Rowan counties, must submit a plan for protecting public health and the environment going forward.

The state has determined that the buried waste poses no measurable risk to the public or environment now or in the future. The illegally buried material is considered no more radioactive than the surface shale that’s common in many parts of Kentucky. But it was a risk that Estill County never agreed to assume, and any exposure to radiation can cause cancer. While landfill liners are warranted for 30 years, the illegally buried waste will remain radioactive for more than 1,000 years.

The citizens group, Concerned Citizens of Estill County, which is suing state agencies to get all the investigative records, should remain vigilant and continue to demand a full accounting to the public.

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