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Radiation detection of drilling waste nearly set at W.Va. landfills

| Thursday, Oct. 30, 2014, 8:45 p.m.

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The installation of devices that detect radiation in natural gas drilling waste is nearly complete at six West Virginia landfills, a state Department of Environmental Protection official said.

Legislation passed earlier this year requires radiation monitoring of drill cuttings by January and set aside the maximum amount of weight that these landfills could accept.

The environmental agency crafted emergency rules for radiation detector placement. Work on the rule started after a Bridgeport landfill was prohibited from accepting radioactive materials from a Pennsylvania landfill that were determined to be slightly above natural background levels. Both landfills are owned by Waste Management.

The state's Division of Water and Waste Management director Scott Mandirola said detectors will be in place at two landfills in Harrison County and one apiece in Brooke, Ohio, Wetzel and Wood counties. Loads of cuttings above a certain radiation level must be rejected.

“They would have to test it in order to take it,” Mandirola said.

The radiation detectors will be located at landfill scales where incoming trucks are weighed. Landfills are required to keep records of incoming waste loads and contact the state if the radiation detectors are tripped.

“Any loads that set off the alarm have to be pulled off to the side and hand-scanned to determine if there's a piece that is setting off the alarm,” Mandirola said.

Issues revolving around horizontal gas drilling, or fracking, affect primarily the northern part of the state, under which the Marcellus Shale formation runs.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency gives states the authority to regulate naturally occurring radiation such as that found in the Marcellus Shale. West Virginia's neighboring states have set radiation levels but are still studying how the waste might affect public health and the environment.

“We are late in the game to regulate this stuff,” said Gary Zuckett, executive director of the West Virginia Citizen Action Group,

Bill Hughes, chairman of the Wetzel County Solid Waste Authority, said questions remain about assessing potential radiation exposure levels to truckers, landfill workers and groundwater.

Last week, a legislative rule-making committee passed a provision to ban all drilling waste from going into landfills in karst regions of West Virginia.

Senate Majority Leader John Unger, D-Berkeley, said a landfill leak in a karst region would be a danger to public health. The landscape of limestone and other bedrocks is particularly porous, fragile and susceptible to sinkholes and caves. Karst geology influences groundwater flow and is predominant in the eastern part of the state.

The emergency rule and the karst provision will be taken up by the Legislature during its three-month session that begins in January.

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