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Lawmakers Get Update On Radiactive Waste In Estill Co. Landfill

dump truck in Estill County
Bill Hughes
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At a committee hearing on Tuesday, state lawmakers discussed how 400 tons of low-level radioactive waste ended up in a landfill in Estill County.

The waste is the result of backflow produced from the natural gas extraction method called horizontal hydraulic fracturing, or, “fracking.”

Earlier this year, state officials acknowledged that the waste from fracking sites in West Virginia ended up in Irvine, Kentucky’s Blue Ridge Landfill, which is operated by Advanced Disposal.

The company has said it didn’t knowingly accept any illegal waste.

Estill County Judge Executive Wallace Taylor said that waste from the deep-drilling process needs to be better regulated.

“We cannot let some large corporation come in and think they can push over what some think as hillbillies,” Taylor said during a Natural Resources and Environment committee hearing on Tuesday.

Last week, Attorney General Andy Beshear said his office would not make criminal charges in the case, instead suggesting that the Cabinet for Health and Family Services pursue civil litigation.

Taylor said Estill County will sue the companies involved and continue to gather facts on the incident.

“We have to look and research what is the potential of danger to the public in the near future and the long-term future,” he said.

Though the low-level radioactive waste is not as hazardous as waste from nuclear power, there are still concerns that the material could disperse in the form of radioactive dust or radioactive liquid oozing into the groundwater.

Rep. Jim DuPlessis, a Republican from Elizabethtown and environmental engineer, cautioned against allowing the fear of radiation getting too “worked up.”

“I think radiation is probably one of the bigger fears people have because it’s an unknown,” DuPlessis said. “And we don’t feel it, we don’t know if it's there and our minds can get pretty crazy thinking about radiation.”

Energy and Environment Cabinet officials said they became aware of the illegal disposals in January and issued a notice of violation to landfill operator Advanced Disposal in March.

Tom Hart, with the group Concerned Citizens of Estill County, accused the cabinet of not involving local officials and citizens in the proceedings.

“Why is it the cabinet never picked up the phone to call the county judge-executive in Estill County or maybe even the county health department to advise them of what was underway?” Hart asked. “Was there a hazard? Was there a threat to public health and safety?”

Last week, Energy and Environment Secretary Charles Snavely announced that any potential agreement with Advanced Disposal would be released as a draft. Public input on the agreement would then be potentially included before any penalty becomes finalized.

Sen. Robin Webb, a Democrat from Grayson, said that corporations have to follow regulatory protocol, which she called “the price of doing business here.”

“I don’t care if it costs money or not because we’ve got to protect our people and our environment,” Webb said.

Ryland Barton is the Managing Editor for Collaboratives. Email Ryland at rbarton@lpm.org.