Health cabinet says it will seek heavy penalties for dumping in Estill and Greenup of radioactive brine from oil and gas drilling

State health officials say they will “seek significant civil penalties” against companies “responsible for the illicit dumping” of radioactive waste in Estill and Greenup counties.

The Cabinet for Health and Family Services, which has authority over radioactive waste, “intends to impose the harshest civil penalties available under the law against all those responsible for the illegal dumping of waste in the Commonwealth,” Secretary Vickie Yates Brown Glisson said in a press release. “We will not tolerate any actions that threaten the health and well-being of our citizens.” She said there are no immediate threats to public health.

One company named in the release is Advanced TENORM Services of West Liberty, which disposed of radioactive brine from oil and gas drilling at the Blue Ridge Landfill in Estill County. (TENORM stands for “technologically enhanced, naturally occurring radioactive material.”) The other is Fairmont Brine, which sent similar but less potent waste to the Green Valley Landfill in Greenup County.

Tests at Blue Ridge “showed no evidence that the TENORM dumping led to radiation or radioactive contamination above federal and state safety limits,” the release said. It said the cabinet is “working with the Energy and Environment Cabinet and Blue Ridge’s attorney and management to remediate and/or manage the landfill property and ensure that the property remains safe for workers and the general public, regarding both in-state and out-of-state (illegal) TENORM waste,” and is “working with outside entities to perform dose assessments on the workers at the landfill. The preliminary results indicate that the workers are not at risk for any negative outcomes.”

Democratic Attorney General Andy Beshear decided not to seek criminal penalties against either dumper, citing “insufficient evidence.” Beshear said he asked the health cabinet for authorization to seek civil penalties, but the cabinet declined, saying it would handle that.

Under Beshear’s father, then-Gov. Steve Beshear, and for a shorter time under Republican Gov. Matt Bevin, the Energy and Environment Cabinet took “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,” Jim Bruggers reported in April for The Courier-Journal. “The health cabinet waited another three weeks – until March 4, two days after The Courier-Journal first reported the dumping – to order the company alleged to have quietly brought the waste into Kentucky to stop, and for landfills to stop accepting it.”

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