BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — North Dakota’s State Health Council ratified Tuesday a reapproval of rules allowing elevated levels of oilfield radioactive waste to be dumped at certain landfills.
The 11-member advisory panel to the state Health Department voted unanimously to reapprove last year’s rules allowing 50 picocuries per gram of concentrations of TENORM — technologically enhanced radioactive material. It had been 5 picrocuries per gram. Picocuries are a measure of radioactivity.
The rules are based on a $182,000 study it funded by Illinois-based Argonne National Laboratories that sought to determine the exposure risk of radioactive waste to oilfield and landfill workers and the public. The study originally was to be funded in part by the oil industry, but that was scrubbed after public criticism that it smacked of conflict of interest.
Environmental groups had alleged last year’s advisory panel meeting was held illegally. Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem issued an opinion in March saying the panel violated state law by not providing adequate notice of the meeting.
The North Dakota Energy Industry Waste Coalition and the Dakota Resource Council also are suing in state court over the rules, a lawsuit that attorney Sarah Vogel said Tuesday will proceed.
More than 50 opponents turned out Tuesday to voice their displeasure with the rules, which regulators say are intended to crack down on the illegal dumping of radioactive oil filter socks, the tubular nets that strain liquids during the oil production process.
Scott Radig, the state Health Department’s waste management director, said the agency has three permit applications under review for western North Dakota landfills wanting to accept the waste.
Susan Perry of Alexander lives near one of the proposed disposal sites and told the panel she worried about increased health risks and decreased land values.
“I’m watching children playing outside wishing they didn’t,” she said.
Some local governments are funding their own studies on the impact of the radioactive waste, according to Derrick Braaten, a Bismarck attorney representing a McKenzie County township that opposes the rules. He added that the rules should be delayed until other data is gathered.
“There are a lot of questions out there that haven’t been answered,” he said.
Under the new rules, companies also must keep “cradle-to-grave” records on oilfield waste, including the source, the amount, and certification of disposal from an approved dump site.
North Dakota’s old 5 picocurie limit, a level health officials say can even be registered by a household granite countertop, is among the lowest in the nation, Radig said.
The higher 50 picocurie level is still safe for humans and the environment, Radig said, adding that Colorado has a limit of 2,000 picocuries, and California has a threshold of 2,000 picocuries.
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