Original story by James Bruggers for courier.journal. Find the original here.
A new citizen's group in Estill County is calling on Kentucky environmental regulators to open up their enforcement discussions with a landfill owner over the dumping of radioactive waste last year, as state officials sought to assure residents of their safety.
"This relationship between the environmental cabinet and the violators of state statutes (and settlement discussions) to be held in secret, is an age-old tactic," said Craig Williams, a member of the newly formed Concerned Citizens of Estill County Inc.
"What's needed is a solutions-based approach that involves all the interested and potentially affected parties, including but not limited to the Citizens of Estill County, and their duly elected representatives," said Williams, program director of the Kentucky Environmental Foundation, who for years has pressed for safe disposal of nerve gas at a federal facility in Richmond.
The new group will have to sue the state if it doesn't get included in the talks, he said, with a goal of reaching "a resolution that everyone can agree with."
Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet spokesman John Mura said that state officials were in "active discussions with Advanced Disposal, the landfill owner, on providing a long-term solution to the radioactive material illegally brought to the site.
“Our enforcement action is ongoing and we understand the public’s desire to be involved. We are evaluating the best way to gather public input into this process.”
He also added that "testing of material buried at the Blue Ridge Landfill does not indicate an imminent health risk to workers or to the public."
State health and environmental officials have tried before to assure the community that they don't believe that any students or teachers at two nearby schools were exposed to elevated radiation from the waste. Some state officials have, however, previously expressed concerns about workers at the landfill and anyone who might have been there when the waste was dumped last year.
On Thursday, state health officials further downplayed any health concerns at the schools or the landfill.
"We have taken numerous soil and water samples from the landfill and adjacent properties," said Beth Fisher, spokeswoman for the Cabinet for Health and Family Services. "At this point, there is no evidence the illegal dumping caused radiation and radioactive contamination above federal and state safety limits at the landfill or the surrounding areas, which include Estill County Middle and High Schools."
Still, area residents weren't buying the environmental clean bill of health being offered by authorities. In a telephone news conference, some said they are worried about current and long-term health and environmental problems from the dumping.
New U of L trustee doesn't hold back on TwitterEstill County resident and citizen group chairman Michael “Bucky” Wilson said state officials, so far, have failed to disclose everything they know.
"We've been shut out of getting information," Wilson said, referring to denied requests for documents under the Kentucky Open Records law. "All the people in this county are concerned."
He said he wants funds established to compensate county residents for any current or future health or environmental impacts and losses in property values.
The group also announced a rally 5 to 8 p.m. July 16 at the football field at Estill County High School, which is across Route 89 from Advanced Disposal’s Blue Ridge Landfill, where state officials said the dumping took place. Advanced Disposal has said it did not know that any illegal waste had been dumped.
Bevin administration officials have said they can't disclose details while they and Kentucky Attorney General Andy Beshear are investigating.
"We ... hope to be in a position to provide information to the citizens of Estill County in the near future,” said Terry Sebastian, the AG office's spokesman.
Citizen group leaders Thursday also complained about a slow response by the state to take action.
Giant sewage tunnel planned for under downtownIn March, Beshear's investigation announcement came about three weeks after theCourier-Journal first reported that Kentucky regulators had determined potentially dangerous radioactive drilling waste from a West Virginia recycling facility had made it into the landfills.
But a CJ investigation published in April found that it took the Energy Cabinet seven months to alert Kentucky landfill operators to be on the lookout for illegal shipments of radioactive drilling waste and that they should not accept any it, after getting a warning from a West Virginia state official.
The newspaper also found that it took the Health Cabinet another three weeks – until March 4, two days after the CJ first reported the dumping – to order Advanced TENORM Services, which is alleged to have quietly brought the waste into Kentucky, to stop.
By then, from July through November 2015, state officials claim, more than 1,000 cubic yards of the waste from fracking operations in Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia had made its way to the Estill dump.
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