ESTILL COUNTY, Ky. (WKYT) - A state official on Thursday confirmed that radioactive material from drilling was illegally dumped last year at the Blue Ridge Landfill.
Kentucky Division of Waste Management Director Anthony Hatton told WKYT that the waste was dumped some time last year between July and November. The state opened its investigation after receiving a tip in January.
Hatton said the Division of Waste Management discovered radioactive material sealed in 47 dumpster boxes that were each 25 cubic yards-that's roughly the size of a large dumpster. The boxes came from a company in West Virginia. Advanced TENORM Services L.L.C, which is based in West Liberty, made arrangements for the disposal, he said.
Kentucky has an exclusive contract with Illinois to manage radioactive waste from the state. Illinois is the only state that is allowed to dump radioactive waste in Kentucky.
Additionally, the radioactive level of the material that was buried was at least 340 times more than the amount that is allowed to be buried at a solid waste landfill. Hatton says the landfill does have a liner and the material has been buried.
The waste was more refined than average, making it more radioactive.
It is not clear whether it is harmful to the public, but Hatton said "I personally don't have any information right now that would lead to believe there was an imminent threat or danger from this material being placed in the landfill."
"At the time in which the material was being deposited I can't answer that question," he said. "As best I understand it they have been operating since November and the landfill receives waste daily, adds it to the working face, adds daily cover. So, this material is at some depth now below the surface."
Operators from the Blue Ridge landfill, where the waste was found, were meeting with state officials at the Division of Waste Management Thursday afternoon.
The Cabinet for Health and Family Services issued the following statement:
“The Kentucky Department for Public Health, in conjunction with the Energy and Environment Cabinet, is aware of what appears to be unlawful dumping of naturally-occurring radioactive material (called tenorm) at an Estill County landfill. According to landfill records, it appears that the last illegal dumping took place in November 2015. As soon as this information became available, DPH conducted a preliminary assessment to determine if there is an immediate threat to public health. DPH has performed testing and found no evidence of radiation above ground. Based on the preliminary investigation, DPH does not believe that there is any on-going risk to the public or the landfill employees since the radioactive material is underground. However, DPH is working to assess any risk to employees or others at the time of the placement of the material in the landfill. DPH will continue to work with EEC and others and will expand its investigation as needed.
Kentucky state law prohibits radioactive waste from outside the state from being disposed in Kentucky. Legal action against the firm that engaged in the illegal dumping and the landfill that accepted the contaminated material is under review.”
Estill County Judge-Executive Wallace Taylor says the landfill owner told him that he accepted waste from West Virginia, but says he didn't know he wasn't allowed to. He says the owner told him none of their paperwork indicated that the material was radioactive.
The Blue Ridge landfill, at 2700 Winchester Road in Irvine, is located near the Estill County High School and Middle School.
Taylor said they will continue investigating. He said they do not plan to close the landfill at this time.
The county's emergency management director said the state's assured him that the material is not a public health threat.
"Any time the term 'radiological' is thrown around it's scary to people. Our very first most important duty is to ensure the safety of our community," Estill County Management Director Ronnie Riddell said.
Estill County Emergency Management issued the following statement:
"This afternoon we learned about the radioactive material being dumped at the landfill just like everyone else; by the news media. We immediately began making calls to the State Waste Management, State Public Health and our local agencies and officials.
We are assured by the Commonwealth Health and Family Services Radiation Health Branch that there is no public health threat at this time. This material was shipped and dumped into the landfill during the summer and fall months of 2015. The state has already completed surveys and sample testing and found no evidence of radioactivity at this time. The state will continue to monitor the dump site within the landfill.
The waste that was brought here was from drilling operations for oil and natural gas. The waste comes from rock and brine that's brought to the surface drilling. Naturally occurring radionuclides concentrate during the process. A West Virginia company that recycles the drilling further concentrates the radionuclides. It appears that this the type of waste material that our landfill received.
This type of waste is illegal to be transported and dumped in the state of KY. The county also has a host agreement with landfill that makes it illegal for them to receive this type of waste.
We are working diligently with all agencies in the county and state to find out how this happened and what steps to take next. We will provide more information as we continue to investigate this situation."