Mich. panel: No changes in handling radioactive sludge

Jim Lynch
The Detroit News

Lansing — A state panel has decided that no major changes should be made in Michigan’s guidelines for handling radioactive sludge, according to a report to be released Friday.

The findings by a committee formed last summer by Gov. Rick Snyder clear the way for Wayne Disposal Inc., operator of a private landfill near Belleville, to begin accepting wastes generated by the hydraulic fracturing process. Despite having handled the material since 2006, company officials voluntarily agreed in August to stop receiving the sludge from fracking sites in Pennsylvania following complaints from environmental groups after they became aware of the shipments.

Snyder charged the panel with determining whether current guidelines were sufficient for the handling of Technologically Enhanced Naturally Occurring Radioactive Materials (TENORM).

“(The panel) ... is in agreement ... that the current Michigan Department of Environmental Quality disposal guideline of 50 picocuries per gram of radium is safe for public health and the environment,” according to the report.

The United States generates hundreds of millions of metric tons of naturally occurring radioactive waste, with much of it containing “only trace amounts of radiation” that “are part of our everyday landscape,” according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. They are generated by activities ranging from mining to municipal drinking water treatment.

Panel members reviewed the science behind studies that established the 50 picocuries radioactivity limit for landfills in 1999 and discovered few findings have changed regarding TENORM, according to the report. In addition, the panel said it reviewed two new studies out of Pennsylvania and North Dakota that further solidified their thinking that current standards protect the public health.

“Both of those studies, in different ways, reaffirmed what the panel had determined,” said Ken Yale, the state Department of Environmental Quality’s radiological protection section chief. “Both of them suggest that the 50 picocurie level is a reasonable value. North Dakota is looking at possibly using it as the standard in their rule-making.”

Officials with EQ, the Wayne-based operator of Wayne Disposal, said they have been confident that their procedures for placing TENORM in landfills was state of the art. On Thursday, Dave Crumrine, director of communications’ for EQ’s parent company, U.S. Ecology, said the panel’s findings clear the way for the plant to begin accepting TENORM material again.

“I think it’s a vindication for Michigan’s regulations,” Crumrine said. “Our plan is to resume operations — business as usual.”

The panel’s report includes recommendations for the handling of naturally occurring radioactive materials in Michigan such as:

■Requiring all licensed operations to place the material only in certain parts of the landfill to curb the creation of radon gas.

■Restricting the amount of material accepted by each licensed landfill.

■Requiring additional groundwater monitoring for landfills that handle such radioactive material.

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