Environment

Residents living near a landfill in Estill County that accepted radioactive waste from gas drilling operations are organizing a new nonprofit. The group’s leaders say they want to hold the companies responsible for the disposal accountable, as well as make sure state regulators share pertinent information about the health and safety risks posed to citizens.

Earlier this year, state officials acknowledged that radioactive waste from natural gas drilling operations in West Virginia had ended up at the Blue Ridge Landfill in Irvine, Kentucky. Another, slightly less radioactive shipment was disposed in a Greenup County landfill. The Blue Ridge Landfill is operated by Advanced Disposal; the company has said it didn’t knowingly accept any illegal waste.

The waste is called Technologically Enhanced Naturally Occurring Radioactive Materials, or TENORM.

Now, citizens are joining with two well-known environmental attorneys to push Kentucky regulators to release more information about the waste and involve the public in any negotiations.

Attorney Mary Cromer of the Appalachian Citizens’ Law Center said the Concerned Citizens of Estill County want more involvement in the process.

“The Energy and Environment Cabinet is in settlement negotiations with the company. We presume those settlement negotiations include a remediation plan, and as of yet, we have not been able to get open records information from the cabinet, much less be included in any kind of settlement talks,” she said. “The Concerned Citizens of Estill County believe that it’s absolutely the right of the people in the county who are the most affected have a say in how this problem is dealt with.”

CCEC Chairman Michael Wilson said the group held its first meeting Thursday, and adopted a resolution saying its members wouldn’t accept any agreement reached between the state and Advanced Disposal that was reached behind closed doors.

Wilson said there are numerous community concerns about radioactive waste in the Blue Ridge Landfill.

“Our schools are directly across the road from this landfill, we’re concerned about the impact on our children which are students there, we’re also concerned about the employees that are there, what they’re being exposed to, and we’re also concerned about the people who live near this landfill, both from a medical concern and also from a loss of property values,” he said.

Tom FitzGerald of the Kentucky Resources Council said the group is waiting to see how the state responds to its request to make the negotiations with Advanced Disposal more transparent before it considers legal action.

Two state government agencies are involved in the environmental enforcement and remediation of the site.

In an emailed statement, John Mura of the Energy and Environment Cabinet said the agency is taking enforcement action and doesn’t believe there’s any imminent health risk to landfill workers or the public.

“We understand and share the concerns of the public and are working toward resolution of these issues. Concurrently with the ongoing enforcement action, the Oil and Gas Workgroup continues to meet to develop policy recommendations that are intended to address the proper management of these types of wastes in the Commonwealth.”

Cabinet for Health and Family Services Spokesman Doug Hogan said his agency is focused on the potential health risks, and had taken numerous soil and water samples.

“At this point, there is no evidence the illegal dumping caused radiation and radioactive contamination above federal and state safety limits at the landfill or the surrounding areas, which include Estill County Middle and High Schools,” Hogan said. “We continue to work collaboratively with Environment and Energy Cabinet, oil and gas industry leaders, and environmental activists to establish a set of regulations to govern TENORM disposal throughout Kentucky.”

The Concerned Citizens of Estill County will hold a rally on July 16 from 5:00 to 8:00 p.m. at the football field at Estill County High School.

The featured photo in this story is from the Wetzel County Landfill, New Martinsville, WV. 

Erica Peterson is WFPL's Director of News and Programming.