By Rosemary K. Otzman
Kerry Durnen, Director of Operations of Wayne Disposal, Inc., will be at the 7 p.m., Tuesday, Sept. 2, meeting of the Van Buren Township Board of Trustees to bring information on the radioactive fracking waste being accepted by the company at the VBT landfill.
The announcement that Range Resources, a frack operator in southwest Pennsylvania, was shipping low-level radioactive sludge to VBT was in a front-page story in the Detroit Free Press on Aug. 19, which stirred up local fears.
VBT Supervisor Linda Combs said Durnen has assured the township that disposal of these materials is in full compliance with all rules, regulations and guidelines set forth by the MDEQ and the EPA.
Supervisor Combs said late last week that Durnen will be coming to the next township board meeting to give information, but it will not be in a debate format.
After his presentation, Durnen will answer some questions that people in the audience will submit in written form on cards, Combs said.
The day the Free Press story was published, school board candidate Scott Russell came to the evening meeting of the VBT Board of Trustees to voice his concerns and ask the board to get a court injunction or pass an ordinance to stop the shipment.
“I haven’t spoken with one person today who is the least bit OK with this,” Russell told the board.
Supervisor Combs told him radioactive fracking waste has been coming to the hazardous waste landfill on the North I-94 Service Drive since the EPA granted it approval on Oct. 1, 2013 and the township was advised of the shipments.
“We have been assured by state and federal authorities that this is safe in this community,” Combs said.
She noted in the Free Press story that a man (who lives next door to her, a half mile away from the landfill) is quoted as saying if there are problems, Wayne Disposal won’t report them.
“But,” she said emphatically, “they do report any problems.”
“I think we were accepting low-level radioactive waste from building demolition around a nuclear facility being dismantled quite some time ago,” said Trustee Jeff Jahr, who sits on the VBT Environmental Commission.
“They were licensed to do so and it’s been quite a while,” Jahr said, adding he thinks the facility being demolished was Up North and he thought it had been several years ago.
“They had public hearings and made everyone aware. It’s a federal approval,” said Trustee Sharry Budd, concerning the fracking waste approval last year.
Governor convenes panel
On Monday, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder announced plans to form a panel of experts to look at the state’s standards for disposing of low-level radioactive materials.
The group, which will be established through the state Department of Environmental Quality, will review Michigan’s standard and look for improvements to ensure protection of public health and the environment, Snyder’s statement said.
The waste product from the fracking is known as “technologically enhanced, naturally occurring radioactive materials,” or TENORM. The radioactivity, usually from the metal radium, accumulates from drill cutting, the soil, rock fragments and pulverized material removed from a borehole that may include fluid from a drilling process.
It also can be present in flowback water, which is the brine or other fluid injected into shale formations during fracking that makes its way back to the surface. TENORM can also result from other industrial practices and waste products.
The radioactivity levels of the waste are typically low, often not much higher than naturally occurring, ambient radiation in the environment. But because the levels are elevated, special regulations for disposal of the material are in place.
Since the Free Press story was published, a few people have been picketing the landfill and several political candidates have come out against bringing in fracking waste from out of state.
State Sen. Rick Jones, R-Grand Ledge, announced on Thursday that he plans to introduce legislation to stop companies in other states, such as Pennsylvania, from dumping low-level radioactive waste materials in Michigan landfills.
He said it will degrade the “Pure Michigan” idea and hurt tourism.
State Representatives Diane Slavens, D-Canton, and Douglas Geiss, D-Taylor, said on Thursday that they will be exploring legislative options to ensure the protection of the Great Lakes.
“In the meantime, Gov. Rick Snyder and the Department of Environmental Quality should take administrative measures to make sure Michigan doesn’t become our nation’s landfill,” Rep. Slavens said.
Both Slavens and Geiss are term-limited and seeking seats in the Michigan Senate in November.
Kristy Pagan, Democratic candidate for Slavens’ seat, on Thursday called on the Department of Environmental Quality to put an end to out-of-state hazardous waste dumping in Michigan.
“We must do everything we can to maintain the health of our kids, families and seniors here in Belleville. We cannot risk having hazardous waste dumped in our backyard,” Pagans said in a news release.
Wayne Disposal is a subsidiary of EQ – the Environmental Quality Company. EQ was purchased in June by USEcology, one of the nation’s largest environmental services companies.
The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality in 2006 approved the landfill, located between Willow Run Airport and I-94, to receive TENORM.
Wayne Disposal’s website lists accepting TENORM as a specialty and notes that a common source of the waste is “oil and gas extraction and processing operations.”
Dave Crumrine, communications director at EQ, said people seem to be upset over the idea that Michigan is accepting the low-level radioactive waste, while Pennsylvania isn’t.
He said Pennsylvania doesn’t have a facility like Wayne Disposal, otherwise they would be accepting it.
“We are positioned to manage low-level radioactive waste. This is not Three Mile Island,” Crumrine said, referring to the nuclear reactor partial meltdown in 1979.
Wayne Disposal is one of 18 hazardous waste landfills in the United States and one of the closer ones to Pennsylvania, Crumrine said.
By Rosemary K. Otzman