Op-Ed

Landfill rules OK, need to stop illegal dumpers

Out-of-state radioactive material was illegally taken to Blue Ridge Landfill in Estill County, across Ky. 89 from a county high school and middle school.
Out-of-state radioactive material was illegally taken to Blue Ridge Landfill in Estill County, across Ky. 89 from a county high school and middle school. gkocher1@herald-leader.com

Regarding the recent op-ed about the illegal disposal of radioactive waste in the Blue Ridge/Estill County Landfill, I believe the author missed some important points:

The act of redirecting the radioactive waste to a municipal landfill is already a crime in the commonwealth. It is the oversight to manage that waste that needs repair to redress future abuses.

The reason that waste was diverted is that we have a system already, and it costs the NORM (naturally occurring radioactive material) waste producers a lot of money to comply. So, like the repair guy who takes your old tires and the dollars to dispose of them and then throws the tires over the hill and keeps the dollars, there is a lot of money to be had by getting paid to handle the waste properly and then cheating.

The payment system can be reworked to minimize that incentive.

The individuals who took the money and then illegally dumped the NORM waste should become poster children with very long prison sentences and extreme fines. It is important for society to be safe from such threats.

This offense is also an opportunity to review and repair the state’s statutes. I’d suggest that opportunity is a better use of one’s time than trying to punish a landfill that is the victim in this abuse.

Faulting the Blue Ridge/Estill County landfill is a misdirection; that landfill has complied with statute, and those statutes are decent. It is a double-lined clay bottomed, drained and monitored landfill — about as good as they get in the commonwealth.

That landfill never claimed to be ready to handle NORMs. Unless there is a measure of harm, leaching or such beyond remediation, shuttering a working permitted landfill gains little, sooner or later you’ll just need another one to replace it. Further, it is not the only landfill abused by the illegal dumpers. Should we close them all?

When the Blue Ridge landfill permit was first being sought, I recall telling the state’s ex-director of the Division of Solid Waste, Don Harker, that the Blue Ridge site had the advantage of being near the large populations that made the waste put on the site. So, should there ever be an issue, there was enough money and justice in the mix that getting things fixed there was more likely than at a more remote landfill.

I believe I am seeing those facts play out now, albeit for an illegal waste that should never have been dumped there.

One of the outcomes of former Gov. Wallace Wilkinson firing Harker for not signing permits for substandard landfills was a top-to-bottom repair of the state’s landfill statutes. The same opportunity is on offer now to repair the financial incentives to illegally dump NORMs.

The public and the op-ed author are not well informed on the rich and assorted flavors of radioactive decay. Unlike spent nuclear fuel, or the highly active medical isotopes, the NORMs are well along their decay curves, and nearly all the emitted particles cannot travel through much of anything, like your skin, the air, the landfill dirt cap or water.

The transmuted radon component is small; your basement is a more likely threat. Radon is readily managed by ventilation. Fugitive transport, where the NORMS leach and escape the landfill, may eventually be an issue and that calls for long-term monitoring.

If there is a big public-health issue to be redressed, it is not the one-off, small-scale, localized NORM crime at Blue Ridge; it is the megatons of NORMs distributed across the airways from the world’s coal-fired power plants.

Will Herrick of Campton is an environmental activist who was been active in recycling open-dump cleanup and limiting waste industries to a local scale.

At issue: June 5 commentary by community columnist Jillean McCommons, “Illegal radioactive waste endangers Estill, everyone downstream”

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