Radiation measuring device triggered by load at Yukon facility

Joe Napsha
| Monday, Aug. 18, 2014, 10:36 p.m.

State officials are investigating a load of hazardous waste that set off radiation monitoring detector alarms last week at MAX Environmental Technologies Inc.'s hazardous waste treatment and storage facility in Yukon.

Department of Environmental Protection inspectors received “inconsistent readings” from the industrial waste pile last week and planned to return to remeasure the material, said John Poister, a spokesman at the department's Pittsburgh office. Environmental regulators have taken samples of the waste and will test those, Poister said.

“We're determining what needs to be done,” Poister said.

The company said it is working with the state to determine the source of the radioactive material, but it believes the waste that triggered the radiation detector alarms is a sludge from the treatment of wastewater from oil and gas drilling operations.

MAX Environmental, based in Upper St. Clair, maintains that there is no threat to human health or the environment from the material, which is at the company's Impoundment No. 6.

“We have the material isolated and covered so that it is not disturbed,” Susan Z. Forney, a company spokeswoman, wrote in an email response to questions.

The amount of waste that triggered the radiation detector alarms is less than a roll-off box and contained in a 6-foot by 6-foot area, MAX Environmental said.

South Huntingdon Supervisor Mel Cornell, who serves as the township inspector, said he was concerned that dust from MAX Environmental, which has blown from the waste pile onto neighboring homes on Spring Street, could contain traces of radioactive material that will affect the health of local residents.

Cornell said meter readings from the waste pile measured from 240 micro Roentgens to 260 micro Roentgens in varying spots when he conducted a routine inspection of the hazardous waste treatment facility on Aug. 12. Cornell said the meter he used, which was purchased by the township, found radiation levels much higher than those found when MAX Environmental's employees measured the same waste.

“It was bad enough for me to alert the rest of the township,” Cornell said.

Poister said he was not certain whether the readings the DEP inspectors received were higher than MAX Environmental's permitted level of 140 micro Roentgens, plus a background reading of 10 micro Roentgens.

MAX Environmental said its employees, the state inspectors and township officials found varying measurement readings from less than 140 micro Roentgens to about 250 micro Roentgens.

Until the investigation is done and any necessary corrective actions are completed, MAX Environmental said it will not accept any waste containing naturally occurring radiation levels above background levels — that is, any waste that would trigger the entrance portal alarm, Forney said.

That naturally occurring radioactive material refers to rocks, minerals and soil that contain small amounts of radium, thorium or uranium. When those soils or rocks are exposed, processed or concentrated, they are considered “technologically enhanced,” she said.

MAX Environmental is trying to determine which firm sent the waste to MAX by reviewing its waste tracking and shipment paperwork, Forney said.

The investigation takes place at a time when MAX Environmental plans to seek a 10-year renewal of its hazardous waste management permit from the state. Its permit expires in February 2015.

Joe Napsha is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-836-5252 or jnapsha@tribweb.com.

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