Home / Exclusives / Public to discuss ND’s radioactive waste problem
Getty Images via NewsCred

Public to discuss ND’s radioactive waste problem

Beginning January 2015 there will be several public information sessions and hearings regarding the possible changes to industrial and oilfield waste landfill regulations proposed by the North Dakota Department of Health (NDDoH).

After the completion of a study performed by the Argonne National Laboratory (ANL), which examined acceptable levels of Technologically Enhanced Naturally Occurring Radioactive Material (TENORM), the NDDoH proposed making changes to state landfill policies. The potential changes would allow oilfield waste and industrial landfills to accept TENORM material that contains up to 50 picocuries (a measurement of radioactivity) per gram.

Environmental Health Section Chief for the NDDoH Dave Glatt said, “Currently, approved landfills can accept waste of up to 5 picocuries per gram, which is approximately equivalent to background radiation. Extremely low standards were established because of a lack of available scientific data at the time … Our proposed rules are based on the best available science and will allow for the responsible and safe disposal of TENORM generated in North Dakota.”

The NDDoH is also proposing new regulations to enhance the tracking of TENORM waste. These rules are designed to hold those generating the waste responsible for its proper disposal as well as to improve the overall handling of the waste within the state. ANL examined the various TENORM waste issues within North Dakota and found that permitting landfills to accept waste measuring up to 50 picocuries per gram poses no health risks to the public or landfill workers. These rules are also designed to combat incidents of illegal dumping.

Related: Time is short to avert shale industry’s imminent radioactive dilemma

The proposed rules would require tracking the hazardous materials from where they originated to the collection sites. Companies transporting the waste would need to be licensed with the Radiation Control Program, be HazMat endorsed, have a trained radiation officer on staff and register with the Secretary of State. Additionally, these firms would need to file quarterly load reports to the NDDoH that specify the waste manifest number, load weight, and both pickup and drop off dates.

The ANL study was commissioned in November of 2013 and was funded by the NDDoH. Considered a leader in the scientific study of radiation, the ANL has developed the majority of the models currently used to evaluate radiation in the U.S. Based on the findings of the study, permitted landfills would be prohibited from accepting more than 25,000 tons of TENORM waste per year. The waste would need to be buried at least 10 feet below the top of a closed landfill and no municipal solid waste facilities would be allowed to accept the material.

The meetings will be held in the cities of Bismarck, Fargo and Williston. Representatives from the ANL will be in attendance to present information from the TENORM study and to discuss the conclusions made. At the meetings, members of the public will be able to make comments and ask questions about the proposed rules. The public will also be able to forward written comments to the NDDoH up to February 6, 2015. The informational meetings will begin at 5:30 p.m. and the official comment hearings will begin at 7:00 p.m. The meetings are scheduled as follows:

  • Williston, January 20: Williston Area Recreation Center, 822 18th Street East
  • Bismarck, January 21: Environmental Training Center, 2639 East Main Avenue
  • Fargo, January 22: Fargo Public Safety Building, 4630 15th Avenue North