The State Health Department’s discovery of radioactive waste violations is both encouraging and disconcerting.
It’s encouraging the state is catching the violators, but disconcerting that some companies or employees are trying to get around the law after so much focus on the issue over the last few years.
The photos and film of abandoned shacks filled with radioactive waste won’t soon be forgotten. Companies need to abide by the law.
IHD Solids Management was ordered to remove nearly 950 tons of material from its site north of Alexander and undergo a third-party inspection of the landfill. The radioactive waste was detected during inspections in May and June.
Secure Energy Services and Gibson Energy WISCO, both in the process of applying for expanded permits under North Dakota's new rules that allow up to 50 picocuries of radioactive oil field waste in specially permitted landfills, also were found to have illegal material on site. Both the companies’ illegal materials were in much smaller quantities than IHD’s.
The discovery of the illegal material comes after the state’s controversial decision to increase the allowable level of radioactive waste from 5 picocuries to 50. The state’s also allowing landfills to apply for permits to handle the higher level of radioactive material. The State Health Council held a new meeting on approving the higher levels after it was decided the council didn’t give appropriate public notice of the first meeting to approve the change.
Since the state’s in the process of changing the rules and going through the permitting process for landfills, we would think the companies would want to be good citizens in the interim. They should be able to take the waste out of state a little longer.
One reason the state caught the violators was the recent purchase of radiation monitoring equipment so it can monitor radioactive waste landfills. The health the department's waste management division recently tested all 12 oil waste landfills. This should give companies warning that the state has improved tools for enforcing the law.
While all three companies have removed the waste and taken steps to improve the monitoring of their waste disposal, there are troubling aspects to the situation.
Gary Ebel, of Buckhorn Energy, told reporter Lauren Donovan that the violation raise some questions. "How much has been buried and how long has this been going on? They're required to know the regulations," said Ebel. He suggested violators be required to test "clean" for a couple of years before the state gives them a permit to handle radioactive waste under the new rules.
One upcoming change that should help: All oil field waste landfill operators will soon be required to monitor every load that comes in for disposal, instead of landfill operators depending on the waste generator to certify that loads meet the rules.
Also disappointing is the state’s apparent decision not to fine IHD for violating its permit conditions, deciding the cost of removing and hauling the waste away was enough of a deterrent. The Tribune Editorial Board feels there should be fine, that violating the rules should result in some punishment. It also reflects how seriously the state takes the issue.
The state’s to be commended for improving its monitoring abilities. It needs to be vigilant and take a tough approach to offenders. Radioactive waste remains a concern to many residents and they need to see the state being active in enforcing the law.