The Three Affiliated Tribes’ environmental division is worried that children will play with the potentially radioactive filters used by the oil industry that are illegally dumped in fields, dumpsters and along the roads.
Edmund Baker, acting director of the tribes’ Environmental Division, said the filter socks have been found in tribal dumpsters and along roads throughout the reservation, but particularly in the Mandaree area around dumpsters set out for community use.
Children are a particular concern because the filters look like small nets and could be mistaken for an item they could use for play or for fishing, he said.
He issued a public notice on the matter Friday and says he plans to attend segment meetings around the reservation to educate the public on the danger.
“This office is asking the communities to report any illegal activity regarding the dumping or the abandoning of these filters within our boundaries,” he said.
The notice informs the public that there is a special procedure for disposal of the socks. No one should handle them and instead, they should be reported to his office.
The filters are used to screen oil well fluids while they’re being injected into disposal wells and can become concentrated with radioactive materials that occur naturally in the soil. Some of the materials used for hydraulic fracturing also are radioactive.
He said the radioactive exposure is similar to getting an X-ray, unless the material on the socks was ingested hand to mouth, which “can result in serious health problems up to a fatality.”
North Dakota health rules prohibit the disposal of radioactive waste above a very minimum level at any landfill in the state. Health and industry officials are studying the possibility of new waste management rules for disposal in specially permitted landfills.
Baker said he was alerted to the problem when a tribal garbage delivery was stopped at the McKenzie County solid waste landfill and issued a fine for attempting to bring in the filter socks.
He said the drivers were unaware the socks were in their load and he’s working to track down which community was the point of origin.
Baker said part of the problem is that reservation communities can be isolated and insulated from awareness of oil field waste issues.
“I’ll be going to community meetings to talk about this,” he said.
Anyone who wants to report finding the filter socks can contact him at his tribal office at 627-4569, or his cell phone at 421-6873.