Michigan is accepting the radioactive fracking waste that other states’ regulations prevent them from keeping.
Up to 36 tons of low-level radioactive waste from fracking operations in Pennsylvania were scheduled to arrive in Michigan last week. The waste was collected from Range Resources drilling operations, and the waste was already rejected by a landfill in Pennsylvania due to its radiation content. It was then slated to go to a landfill in West Virginia, a state that used to be able to accept unlimited amounts of radioactive fracking waste in its landfills, but the waste wasn’t accepted there either, since West Virginia is in the process of strengthening its rules on radioactive waste disposal.
Pennsylvania landfills have had radiation detectors since 2002, and Ohio has also strengthened its regulations on the acceptance of radioactive fracking waste. That leaves Michigan, a state that doesn’t have strict rules on radioactive fracking waste, and whose Wayne Disposal landfill got the state’s Departnment of Environmental Quality’s approval to accept radioactive fracking waste in 2006.
According to Range Resources, the waste that’s slated to arrive in Wayne Disposal has has shown radioactivity levels of somewhere between 40 and 260 microrems per hour, and that the radioactivity is not detectable a few feet away from the waste. The Detroit Free Press notes that, according to the EPA, continued exposure to radiation of up to 100 microrems over a period of months can result in “changes in blood chemistry, nausea, fatigue, vomiting, hair loss, diarrhea and bleeding.”
“This is basically a load of sludge that came from storage tanks that were cleaned out and had accumulated over time,” John Poister, spokesman for the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, told the Detroit Free Press. “It comes from the water used in hydraulic fracturing, and when it’s stored, the solids tend to sink to the bottom and become a sludge.”
Environmental groups and some residents are concerned about the waste being stored in Michigan. Anne Woiwode, Michigan director of the Sierra Club, told the Detroit Free Press that she was worried about the radiation leaking into waterways in Michigan, including the Great Lakes. And Kristen Yoder, a Michigan resident who lives less than a mile from the landfill slated to receive the waste, said she too was worried about leakage.
“It scares me because I have children, and anything having to do with radiation possibly leaking — maybe into our water supply — is a big, potential problem,” she said.
There’s a petition circulating to tell Gov. Rick Snyder to reject the radioactive waste, and Michigan Senator Rick Jones announced that he would be submitting legislation that would prevent other states from dumping their radioactive fracking waste in Michigan.
“The ethical issue here is: we need to worry about the Great Lakes watershed,” Jones said. “This is extremely important to the entire country, this is fresh water and we need to protect it and certainly not by taking a radioactive product from another state.”
Solid radioactive waste is a byproduct of fracking, one that states have struggled to deal with as the practice becomes more common in many places. But fracking also creates toxic wastewater that can be radioactive, and this water, when stored in wells, can sometimes leak and contaminate water sources.