Does radioactive waste pose local threat?
Railroad tank cars containing LPG, an odorless flammable gas and dangerous fire hazard, recently passing through Plymouth
Sept. 16, 2014 PLYMOUTH EAGLE.
Plymouth Michigan News
While Van Buren Township residents protested the dumping of radioactive fracking waste in their community during a meeting last week, officials from the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) are considering a request to increase the allowable radiation levels of waste accepted at the facility.
An application from the owners of the Wayne Disposal landfill in Van Buren Township to increase the level of radiation in waste received at the site was submitted to the DEQ last October, prior to widespread reports of the radioactive material being shipped to the Wayne Disposal site from out-of-state fracking operations. The level for radiation in Michigan is set at 50 picocuries, which is 100 times greater than naturally occurring levels, according to State Rep. Douglas Geiss (D-Taylor). Geiss and State Rep. Dian Slavens (D- Canton) have introduced a bill which would ban the practice of other states’ dumping fracking byproduct in Michigan.
According to state records, Michigan Disposal has been cited for multiple safety violations during the past nine years. Violations included a leak in the hazardous waste landfill protective liner; toxic leacheate spills into surface water; improper venting and monitoring of stored under- ground hazardous waste; disposing of hazardous waste in non- hazardous landfill locations and failing to control chemical reactions during processing causing at least nine fires in the past nine years. The site was, however, granted permission to nearly double the size of the landfill in 2012.
In Pennsylvania and Ohio, the limit on radiation in waste matter is 5 picocuries which prompted the shipping of 36 tons of radioactive waste to the landfill in Van Buren. Those states cannot obtain federal permits for the dumping of the radioactive material as it exceeds the state picocuries limit.
Concern over the hazards of hauling dangerous, flammable and toxic rail cargo through the surrounding Plymouth, Northville and Canton communities remains a topic of discussion, now compounded by the potential railroad transport of radioactive waste. Plymouth, a major railroad intersection, is the daily route of trains regularly transporting hazardous materials including chlorine, cyclohexane, methyl ethyl ketone, butadiene, crude oil and potentially radioactive waste to the Van Buren site.
Last May, after upgrades and scheduled repairs to railroad crossings in Plymouth appeared stalled, The Eagle contacted CSX Railroad officials about the delay and inquired about hazardous shipments. Some local residents had expressed concern regarding the conditions of the rails throughout the area following the train accident in Lynchburg, VA when crude oil tanker cars derailed, forcing the evacuation of a large part of the downtown area along the James River, a short distance from office buildings and homes.
CSX would not reveal the number of railroad tanker cars carrying hazardous or flammable materials throughout the local area but contend that such information would be available to public safety officials, should they request it. Carla Groleau, CSX communications director, would only say “CSX supports the safe transportation and handling of materials with infrastructure maintenance and improvements, technology and training.”
CSX, according to the Federal Railway Administration, had more than 200 derail- ments and accidents in 2012.
Northville Township Fire Chief Rich Marinucci, who heads up the Western Wayne County Fire Department Mutual Aid Association (WWFDMAA) Haz-Mat Team says they are constantly training and preparing for potential emergencies including those involving the railroads. Marinucci who describes his team as “outstanding” said, “While it is not possible to predict every emergency scenario, the team is very good at what they do, one of the top teams anywhere, certainly in the State of Michigan.”
The head of the National Transportation Safety Board recently said the nation’s railroads could pose a catastrophic threat to the U.S. population, speaking after a CSX train in Indianapolis carrying a half-a-million-pound container designed to haul spent nuclear waste crashed into a truck loaded with pineapple.
During a meeting last week, Van Buren Township residents questioned the wisdom of allowing the dumping of radioactive waste at the Wayne Disposal site, in such close proximity to the Huron River watershed. Van Buren Township Supervisor Linda Combs said in an earlier interview that she was confident in the safety procedures at the dumping site.
“I am absolutely confident that they (EQ) are not doing anything to endanger the public,” she said prior to the meeting last week. She said the radiation levels are nearly undetectable and do not affect dump site employees.
Officials from Environmental Quality, the owners of the Wayne Disposal site, announced Aug. 25 that they would voluntarily suspend receipt of the radioactive waste scheduled to be shipped from Pennsylvania until a panel named by Gov. Rick Snyder could investigate the situation. There has been no timeframe announced for any such probe and no public announcement of any appointments to the panel at press time.
“Wayne Disposal has worked cooperatively with the MDEQ and the local community for many years and will continue to support a strong working relationship with them based on sound science and transparency,” said Simon Bell, executive vice president of operations for EQ in a prepared release.