A memo released earlier this year in West Virginia gives the state’s landfills the ability to accept unlimited amounts of fracking waste, the AP reports.
The memo will create an exception for the state’s natural gas industry to longstanding laws on landfill waste, which stipulate that landfills can only take 10,000 or 30,000 tons of solid waste each month, depending on their classification. Now, fracking operations can send unlimited amounts of their solid waste — known as “drill cuttings” and composed of dirt, water, sand and chemicals — to landfills each month.
This exception has environmentalists in the state concerned. The Marcellus shale formation, which sits under much of West Virginia, has been found to have a higher level of radioactivity than other formations — last year, nearly 1,000 trucks hauling Marcellus Shale waste to Pennsylvania landfills were stopped after setting off radioactivity alarms. But unlike Pennsylvania, where waste that is deemed too radioactive is sent to radioactive waste disposal sites out of state, West Virginia doesn’t require waste to be tested for radioactivity.
Bill Hughes, chairman of the Wetzel County Solid Waste Authority in West Virginia, told the AP he thinks the state needs to look into the potential health risks of drill cuttings. This October in Wetzel county, a landfill that before was only able to accept 9,999 tons of solid waste each month accepted more than 40,000 tons, about 75 percent of which was from drill cuttings.
“Landfills have never seen a ton of waste they don’t want to take,” Hughes said. “Our state just sort of trusts the garbage guys.”
But while some residents of West Virginia question the state’s new rules, they aren’t the only ones to struggle with the problem of solid fracking waste. According to one report, Ohio’s municipal landfills are filling up with fracking wastes from other states, creating a “serious problem” in the state.
And as fracking expands in West Virginia, solid waste isn’t the only thing residents will have to worry about. Fracking also creates wastewater that often contains carcinogens and radioactive materials. Over time, the wells that store this wastewater can fail, which can sometimes result in ground and surface water contamination. Fracking wastewater has been linked to elevated levels of radioactive activity in one Pennsylvania river, and exposure to fracking wastewater has been linked to near-immediate death, stillbirths and birth defects in cattle. People living near fracking operations in Pennsylvania have also reported a range of health problems, including skin rashes, infections, headaches and chronic pain.