The Alliance For A Clean Environment
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Radioactive waste in landfills
Asbestos also being dumped here

By Todd Sherman
Mercury Staff Writer
WEST POTTSGROVE – Radioactive sludge and asbestos are being dumped at the Pottstown Landfill – with the approval of the state Department of Environmental Protection and the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
Those agencies classify both materials as non-hazardous.
But that doesn’t mean they belong in the Pottstown Landfill, said a member of the state Low-Level Radioactive Waste Advisory Committee.
“Low-Level radioactive waste is supposed to go to a licensed, specially built facility,” said Judith Johnsrud, who is also the vice chairman of the state chapter of the Sierra Club.
“Local landfills were never intended for this purpose.”
Some of the asbestos being dumped is from the renovations of the Patriot Savings Bank at High and Hanover streets.
Radioactive sludge being accepted by the Waste Management-owned landfill is from Cabot Performance Materials of Boyertown and Interstate Nuclear Services of Royersford.
Cabot, makes metal alloys and electronic components and produces a sludge containing uranium and thorium as a byproduct. INS cleans the uniforms worn by workers at the Limerick Nuclear Power Plant.
The half-life of uranium is 4 ½ billion years, said Johnsrud. Most scientists believe the earth is only 6 billion years old.
“It will be there forever.” she said. “There has never been any long-range studies on what will happen. It’s unfortunate, and that’s a problem we must look at.”
But for now the “low-level radioactive” waste coming from both companies is well within federal guidelines for levels of radioactivity, according to the NRC.
Levels are different for each
material, but for thorium, Cabot’s principal waste product, anything under 10 picocuries per gram is legal, said NRC spokesman Victor Dricks. That would give off one to three millirads per year, which is so small it cannot be accurately measured against background or naturally occurring radiation, Dricks said.
Once the radiation levels of a company waste are at or under NRC levels they are free to dispose of the waste as they see fit, Dricks said. They are not required to notify the NRC where the waste is dumped.
But the NRC does not regulate the Pottstown Landfill; the DEP does.
Once the NRC says the waste is within its guidelines, the DEP then removes the “low-level radioactivity” tag and classifies the waste product as industrial sludge.”
Waste Management’s solid waste permit does not approve the landfilling of radioactive waste, said Ron Furlan, DEP’s regional waste management program director.
Furlan said the Pottstown Landfill cannot take any radioactive materials – and doesn’t under DEP guidelines.
“Everything has low levels of radiation,” said DEP spokesman Clarke Rupert. “There are many natural sources of low levels of radiation.”
Waste Management officials said the DEP approves every residual waste that enters the facility off Route 100. In addition, samples of such waste are run under a Geiger counter to check for excessive levels of radiation.
“It is very extensive procedures,” said David Heffner, technical manager at the landfill. “The townships are part of the notification procedure, and the county gets copies of it also. It is very extensive.”
Heffner said West Pottsgrove
and Douglass (Berks) townships, the two municipalities in which the landfill lies, and Montgomery and Berks counties are sent notices that those materials are being accepted.
Once a company wants to dump industrial sludge or any similar waste, it contacts Waste Management, whose technicians review all tests on the substance. If Waste Management approves the waste, it sends the information on to the DEP.
Waste Management officials will not release a list of the companies that bring industrial sludge to the 233-acre landfill. So it’s hard to say just how much of the material – and from how many sources – is being dumped at the landfill.
“Each individual waste stream may be permitted,” Johnsrud said. “But to my knowledge, no one ever has, or is now, taking into account a sum of all the sources that are contributing to the landfill.”
Cabot has been taking an average of 2,000 tons of its uranium-thorium waste to the landfill since 1983. The landfill is licensed to take a maximum average of 5,333 tons of trash (all inclusive) per day, and averages around 3,000.
Another material that has been sanctioned by the DEP is asbestos.
While industrial sludge is mixed with the regular municipal trash that comes into the landfill, asbestos must be buried in its own pit.
Before it comes into the landfill, asbestos must be wetted down and placed in large plastic bags that are about as thick as 30 Hefty bags, Heffner said.
“If a bag is damaged, it must be re-bagged before it is disposed of,” he said.
Waste Management officials did confirm that the asbestos from Patriot Savings Bank at High and Hanover streets is being dumped in the landfill.

Reprinted with permission by
The Pottstown Mercury
© April 22, 1996

P.O. Box 3063
Stowe, PA 19464

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