The Alliance For A Clean Environment
Printable Version

January 31, 2002

Mr. Ronald Furlan, Program Manager
Waste Management Program
PA Department of Environmental Protection
Lee Park #6010
555 North Lane
Conshohocken, PA 19428

Re: Application for Pottstown Landfill MAJOR MODIFICATION Solid Waste Permit # 100549 – Radiation Protection Plan

Dear Mr. Furlan:

ACE requests that this permit be denied for many valid and serious reasons, which we have identified in this letter. This application is for a MAJOR MODIFICATION to Pottstown Landfill’s Solid Waste Permit (concerning radiation permitted to be accepted into the Pottstown Landfill). If issued, there would be an inevitable harmful outcome which would negatively impact the lives of tens of thousands of area residents for decades.

If DEP is not willing to deny this permit as written, ACE is requesting a full on-the-record public hearing for Pottstown Landfill Major Modification Solid Waste Permit # 100549. We ask that the public be given a 60-day notice prior to the scheduled date of the public hearing. The public has a right to express concerns and questions in a public forum, about a MAJOR MODIFICATION to Pottstown Landfill’s solid waste pollution permit, which has important and serious negative implications to their health and lives. DEP needs to respond to these public concerns and questions in writing.

ACE is also requesting that an Environmental Impact Statement be required for radiation monitoring plans. This is about allowing radioactive materials to be deposited at the landfill or else trucked away. We request this must be completed and reported 60 days PRIOR to the public hearing, BEFORE Permit # 1000549 is issued, concerning Pottstown Landfill’s “Radiation Monitoring Plan.” Our community needs and deserves a site-specific comprehensive view of current risks. We believe our letter will substantiate our request for an assessment and a public hearing.

Radiation exposure is a critical issue in the Greater Pottstown Area where people are already over exposed to too much radiation. Low-level radiation exposure, the same as we are subjected to in this community on a daily basis, has been linked with leukemia. The Greater Pottstown area has been documented to have a leukemia rate double that of the state. Common sense and logic suggest radiation in the landfill could have already played a role in the significantly elevated leukemia rate in the Greater Pottstown Area. Why would DEP give the Pottstown Landfill a MAJOR MODIFICATION to its permit which would allow all kinds of radioactive wastes to be dumped, contaminate the mass of waste, then escape into our air and water in the landfill gases and leachate?

This Proposed Radiation Monitoring Plan appears to be a smokescreen to hide larger, underlying issues.

1. Under the guise of radiation monitoring to safeguard the public from radioactive materials, DEP wants to CHANGE the Pottstown Landfill permit to now legally allow alpha, beta, and gama radioactive wastes to be dumped, but not monitor for all of them coming in.

2. Grossly unprotective and incomplete radiation monitoring has been recommended for what enters the landfill.

Proposed radiation monitoring:

    a. will not detect alpha radiation at all
    b. only occasionally detect bata radiation
    c. only approximately quantify gamma levels.
3. NO RADIATION MONITORING will take place for what radiation escapes the landfill into our air and water from Pottstown Landfill gas and leachate even though this permit opens the floodgates for all of it.

4. The proposed change in Pottstown Landfill’s permit will not protect the public in the Greater Pottstown Area, but instead INCREASE our radiation risks. Our health risks from radiation emissions in Pottstown Landfill gas and leachate will be increased, not reduced.

DEP’s own prior testing of Pottstown Landfill gases and leachate, while inadequate, still prove that radiation, which entered the Pottstown Landfill, can escape with the gases and leachate into the air and water of the public. ACE’s investigation has led us to believe that there is no way to burn off radiation from landfill gas and there is no way to filter it out from landfill gas or leachate.

DEP does not have a way to protect the public’s air and water once radiation enters a landfill and contaminates the wastes.

Still, DEP proposes a radiation monitoring plan which:
    1. opens the floodgates for radiation to enter landfills

    2. does not monitor for all kinds of radiation

    3. does not set monitoring levels low enough to protect the public

    4. uses high background levels where communities have been overexposed to radiation far too long and the background is already too high to protect public health.

    5. and will not monitor for radiation escaping with landfill gas and leachate into the air and water surrounding of the public.
This is about DANGEROUS DECEPTION. DEP’s Radiation Monitoring Plan is NOT just about monitoring the waste trucks coming into the landfill for radiation, although we have serious concerns and questions about the details of this monitoring and its consequences. It’s NOT about protecting the public from radioactive waste.

This plan is about much more than monitoring at landfills.
DEP’s Radiation Monitoring Plan is also about following very serious issues:

1. This is about what will be permitted to be dumped in Pottstown Landfill on a continuous basis - hourly, daily, weekly, and yearly.

2. This is about opening the floodgates for radioactive wastes to be dumped in the Pottstown Landfill.

3. This is about contaminating the entire mass of waste with radioactive materials.

4. This is about contaminating landfill gas and leachate with low-level radioactive wastes.

5. This is about woefully inadequate and unprotective up-front radiation monitoring.

6. This is about NO RADIATION MONITORING as the gas and leachate escape into our air and water at the end.

7. This is about ignoring the enormous human health risks involved from additive, synergistic, and cumulative effects to the people living around the Pottstown Landfill as well as other landfills. This is about DEP permitting enormous risk to the health of people in the Greater Pottstown Area.

8. This is about DANGEROUS WORD GAMES. The permit discusses four kinds of radioactive wastes, which may be placed at the Pottstown Landfill - Medical, NORM, TENORM, and consumer products. Radiation in radioactive medical waste or naturally occurring radiation still presents a risk to human health. Just because something is named NORM or TENORM does not remove the radioactive risk to human health.
    a. DEP has been deceptive in its presentation of this “Radiation Monitoring Plan.” You would have the public believe: the only radiation coming to landfills is the radiation that is part of their daily lives which ends up in our trash; that this will not harm our health when it all mixes with hazardous chemicals in a landfill; that the levels of radioactive materials you suggest pose no threat to the public; and that because some radiation decays quickly it is not harmful to public health.

    b. New research suggests we need to look at those statements with skepticism at best, especially in an area already exposed to far too much radiation from major sources other than those in our daily lives. In this area we are already exposed to health risks from Pottstown Landfill radiation emissions and Limerick nuclear power plant radiation emissions.

    c. At the heart of this new plan are the 1990 federal government plans to declare 1/3 of the nation’s “low level” radioactive waste “below regulatory concern,” BRC. This declaration is not about what levels of radiation are safe to human health.

    d. “BELOW REGULATORY CONCERN” on low-level radioactive wastes is really ABOUT ECONOMICS. The BRC program saves the nuclear industry billions of dollars when disposing of its radioactive wastes. Huge costs of radioactive waste management, storage, and isolation have led to this dangerous waste being allowed to deregulate and recycle these biologically hazardous materials. This ultimately is exposing people like us who live around landfills to even more radiation risks. Once again, people in Pottstown are expected to pay a high price at the expense of a hazardous industry.

    e. NRC is changing the clearance level of the amount of radiation that can be released into consumer products. Aren’t these Radiation Monitoring Plans a way for DEP to allow more radiation into landfills (NOT LESS) and to legalize landfill dumping of radioactive contaminated wastes?

    f. This plan is about rewarding industrial friends of law-makers in PA, who may make substantial campaign contributions later, with a cheap way of unloading their radioactive wastes and absolving them of any liability.

    g. Medical views of radiation are based on the assumption that ANY amount of radiation causes some harm and some risks of serious consequences such as genetic damage or cancer. BRC is even violating medical ethics.

    h. Medical ethics dictate that a person should not be exposed to ANY radiation unless that person derives a benefit from the exposure. There is no benefit to people in Pottstown to allow “safe levels” of any kind of radiation.

    i. Boiler plate language on radiation monitoring will result in additive radiation risks, to which people in Pottstown are absolutely opposed and can not afford. All will be additional exposures. An effect of radiation can happen all the way down to ZERO DOSE. All additional doses allowed in the Pottstown Landfill are in addition to the risks from naturally-occurring background levels that we can’t avoid. Recent research appears to confirm that low doses, received repetitively at low dose-rate, may even be more damaging than higher doses.
9. This is about the unethical use of high background levels as a starting point from which to determine what is safe.

    a. For at least 16 years the Greater Pottstown Area has had radiation emitted into the air and water from both the Limerick Nuclear Power Plant and Pottstown Landfill gases and leachate.

    b. These releases were additive to a high radon level.

    c. To use our background level as a guide for what is safe to dump, is not only ILLOGICAL and UNETHICAL, it is IMMORAL considering we are talking about radiation risks to human health. Background levels can not be used here if public health is to be protected.

    d. Radiation, particularly at low levels of exposure over a long period of time, is now known to be far more dangerous than previously believed.
10. This is about opening the door for dangerous abuses and violations, which will further endanger the people in the Greater Pottstown area and which cannot be controlled. DEP will not provide continuous perimeter monitoring of the gases for the radiation or for the leachate.

11. This is about enormous and inevitable health harm from low-level radiation exposure from landfill gas and leachate without the liability associated with the health consequences of being exposed to low-level radioactive wastes.

Bottom Line

1. DEP’s “Radiation Protection Plan” as written, will not and can not protect the health and safety of Greater Pottstown area residents from our radiation exposure as a result of Pottstown Landfill gas and leachate.

2. The most glaring example: While opening the floodgates to radiation, this Radiation Monitoring Plan will not detect all kinds of radiation coming to the Pottstown Landfill. ‘Procedures’ in the draft guidance:
    a. will not detect alpha radiation at all
    b. only occasionally detect bata radiation
    c. only approximately quantify gamma levels.

3. We maintain DEP can not accurately determine how much of a health hazard this permit will create. Our full and complete radiation exposure risks can not even be estimated without full and complete disclosure to all additive, synergistic, and cumulative impacts. This plan will increase the harmful health risks from radiation exposure in the Greater Pottstown area, and DEP has no idea how much greater the risks will be.

4. This plan does not take into account the unique enormous radiation risks already faced by people in the Greater Pottstown Area, nor the significantly elevated environmentally linked illnesses, documented by over 100 physicians in this area.

5. Levels of detection are not protective to the health of people in our area because the deciding factors are based on incomplete, deceptive, and in some cases inaccurate information.

ACE refers DEP to a 1990 Report on radiation health effects BEIR V (Biological Effects of Ionizing Radiation). A Blue Ribbon panel of scientists from the National Academy of Science reported that THERE IS NO SAFE LEVEL OF IONIZING RADIATION. There is some risk at any level. Low-level radiation over long periods of time can harm human health as much as one high level dose.

It has been a long-accepted fact that all exposures to ionizing radiation , including naturally-occurring background, carry risks of mutational damage, cancer induction, and genetic defects. DEP’s proposed radiation monitoring plan will not protect public health from an ever-increasing radioactive waste stream. If this permit is not denied, we need and deserve a public forum before any permit is issued. In general, DEP’s approach is dangerous back-end thinking and DEP’s guidelines are not adequately protective for people in the Greater Pottstown Area.

To protect public health from an ever-increasing more radioactive waste stream, DEP MUST REQUIRE RADIATION MONITORING EQUIPMENT ON THE TRUCKS WHEN THEY PICK UP THE WASTE to detect radioactive waste at the source, BEFORE:
    a. it contaminates other waste on the trucks,
    b. exposes the waste haulers,
    c. exposes unknowing communities as it is transported through them, and
    d. exposes all who work and live around the landfills.
If radioactive wastes are found, the owners of the radioactive waste, waste haulers must refuse to take radioactive contaminated items. The waste stream entering municipal landfills can not be permitted to be contaminated with radiation. There must be separate pick up for radiation contaminated wastes and separate very protected places to dump this waste. It must be guaranteed to be disposed of where it will not harm the public.

DEP’s Proposed Guidance Document on Radioactivity Monitoring at Municipal and Residual Waste Processing and Disposal Facilities

ACE does not believe that most people in our community and other landfill communities in PA fully understand the consequences of this document to their future health and safety concerning radiation exposure. This is evidenced by ACE being only one of very few non-industry groups to provide comments on this proposal. Most other landfill communities in PA would not have had cause to investigate what happens to the waste, emissions, and the people when a landfill is permitted to accept low-level radioactive contaminated wastes. Our investigation can only conclude that people in the Greater Pottstown have suffered health harm resulting from the low-level radioactive waste which escapes into our air and water from Pottstown Landfill gases and leachate. DEP can not prove otherwise. Common sense suggests it is illogical and immoral to subject the Greater Pottstown Area to even more low-level radioactive contaminated wastes which will continue to poison our air and water with unknown levels and kinds of radiation.

After careful review of DEP’s comment/response document for the above mentioned DEP guidelines, we have MANY extremely serious concerns, specifically for future Pottstown Landfill radiation exposures to the people of the Greater Pottstown area. DEP states in the document that “it would be very desirable to prevent materials containing sufficient radioactivity to be of concern from entering the solid waste stream in the first place” yet DEP does nothing toward that end. Due to the extreme situation that exists in Pottstown, trucks headed for the Pottstown Landfill through our communities should have radiation monitors on them trucks to avoid picking up even low-level radioactive waste in the first place.

Specific Concerns about DEP’s Guidance Document for Radioactive Monitoring at Solid Waste Processing and Disposal Facilities:

1. Neither DEP, EPA, nor NRC has dealt specifically or adequately with the problems of radioactive material in landfills, such as those already in the Pottstown Landfill.

2. Once again DEP has ignored additive, synergistic, and cumulative radiation risks to public health.

3. Standards and levels of regulatory concern can not be considered adequate when synergism with other kinds of radiation and hazardous chemicals are unknown.

4. Human health risks to people living around landfills need to be evaluated on each individual landfill’s radioactive toxic cocktail. Boiler plate standards are not protective.

5. DEP will not and can not protect us from the radiation which will inevitably be emitted with landfill gas and leachate.
    a. Gas is collected from over 217 gas wells and is continually emitted into the air of people living in the Greater Pottstown area from 4 full time combustion sources, as well as fugitive emissions, 24 hours a day. There are unknown amounts and kinds of radiation emitted and DEP has refused to do continuous perimeter monitoring for the Pottstown Landfill for all kinds of radiation. DEP has not been able to answer our concerns or address this risk to public health and therefore, should set any monitoring equipment at ZERO.

    b. Research documented low-level radiation is linked to leukemia and leukemia has been documented to be elevated around other landfills. The Greater Pottstown Area has a leukemia rate double that of the state. Many leukemia victims, including children, live within 3 miles the Pottstown Landfill.

6. Our concerns for the unknown radiation risks from additive, synergistic, and cumulative human health threats with all the other chemical hazards in landfills are justified.
    a. DEP’s own fact sheet on ozone documents that ozone intensifies the cancer-causing effects of radiation. The Pottstown Landfill is in a severe non-attainment area, meaning the ozone level does not meet national health based standards.

    b. A recent Science News article documents how one hazardous substance in landfill gas, mercury, becomes much more dangerous when mixed with other chemicals in landfills. What happens when radiation is mixed with mercury, other chemicals, and heavy metals in the Pottstown Landfill?

7. Detection levels on the radioactive monitoring equipment would be set at high enough levels to “avoid costly and unnecessary disruptions to the operations of the facilities,” and not according to how it would threaten human health as it contaminates the waste, synergizes and escapes the landfill. What is the cost in human terms of not setting these detection levels at 0 to protect public health? At least 33,000 residents live within 3 miles of the Pottstown Landfill.
    a. Changes to the current permit which would give the landfill operator more “flexibility” in dealing with a contaminated load is unacceptable and clearly not in the best interest of public health and safety.

    b. The waste industry is naturally more concerned with low detection levels setting off a lot of what they deem “false alarms” and “community concern.” In Pottstown the community has a right to be concerned about any more radiation in the landfill and it can not be determined that any alarm would be false in Pottstown because DEP’s levels of concern are not based on complete and accurate data to protect the public.

    c. The waste industry wants the cause for chronic alerts to be minimized because of the “crying wolf” theory. We say avoid the reason for chronic alerts by adding radiation monitoring on the trucks to avoid transport of this radioactive waste in the first place. Acceptance criteria on which to alert the landfill and the public should not be lowered just because there is too much of it. It can not be assumed that just because some of the waste comes from medical treatment, the problem should not be eliminated at the source, with separation and different means of disposal.

8. Not all kinds of radiation which enter the landfill are planned to be detected. Risks can not be fully assessed. Proposed “radioactive monitoring” is clearly not protective of people in the Greater Pottstown area.

9. Isn’t it true that BOTH ALPHA and BETA RADIATION have come to the Pottstown Landfill from nearby Cabot Industries since 1983? DEP does not plan to monitor for any alpha or all beta radiation. How is this monitoring protective?

10. External Doses - The dose rate will be affected by the distribution of the radioactivity in the waste, the density of the waste, the thickness of the container side walls and even the POSITION of the DETECTOR. DEP’s plan of running these trucks through or by the monitors several times, emptying the waste onto plastic and sorting through it to find the source, etc., and/or sending the waste to a different location will not reduce time of exposure, nor is it protective. Radiation that penetrates the body is to be controlled by reducing time of exposure, increasing distance from the source, and by using shielding afforded by solid objects like trucks or buildings to intercept the radiation. Trucks are held in landfills where people are working, drivers and other people are coming and going, not to mention where people live too close.

11. Internal doses resulting from inhaling or ingesting the radioactive material are our greatest community concern.
    a. Radioactive waste exposes people as it is transported through our community and other communities in our state. Waste determined to be too radioactive to dump (only the very most dangerous radiation) has already exposed people in transportation and if refused could again travel through our communities to other locations, exposing people to the same enormous risk twice.

    b. Massive amounts of low-level radioactive wastes will not be detected by the DEP’s proposed monitoring. This will contaminate and synergize with the entire mass of waste where it is buried.

    c. This radiation will escape into our community and others, both in the gases and leachate, further contaminating the public’s air and water with continuing additive radiation doses. The problems inherent in dumping hourly, daily, weekly, and yearly loads of low-level radioactive contaminated wastes into a landfill can not be realistically or accurately determined.

    d. Terms like “unlikely” to exceed the public limit are no guarantee of public safety. The public limit of radiation should be determined by many factors, not a standard amount.
      1. The Greater Pottstown Area has already been exposed to the cumulative and synergistic effects of long term low-level radiation from years of breathing landfill gas in addition to Limerick Nuclear Power plant low-level radiation emissions, less than six miles from the landfill.

      2. In this community we also have a documented health crisis.

      3. Obviously in the Greater Pottstown Area more stringent monitoring and regulations are needed to protect our children, the unborn, and those already sick.
Radiation History of Pottstown Landfill
The Pottstown Landfill is the perfect example of why low-level radioactive wastes must be kept out of landfills to safeguard public health. DEP and NRC allowed low-level radioactive contaminated wastes to be dumped in the Pottstown Landfill since at least 1983. This radioactive waste contaminated the entire mass of waste. DEP’s radiation testing of leachate was woefully inadequate, but did show radiation escapes into our water. While the gas was never tested, the minimal testing of air downwind did prove radiation escaped into our air.

For over five years, in vast ACE correspondence to DEP, ACE identified what our investigation had led us to believe was a radiation health threat to the region due to the Pottstown Landfill gas. ACE had many questions and concerns about radiation dumped into the Pottstown Landfill from Cabot Industries, INS in Royersford, medical waste, and other sources. DEP has never adequately addressed the radiation exposure risks we currently face in the Greater Pottstown Area from Pottstown Landfill gas and leachate.

Radiation dumped in the Pottstown Landfill permeated the entire mass of waste. In fact, the NRC and EPA admitted to discussing the “radiation problem” at the Pottstown Landfill as far back as 1996 with DEP. While discussed, nothing was done to correct the problem or protect the people.

1. DEP’s 1997 report found high beta levels in the landfill leachate. DEP had to go all the way down to the bridge at Route 113 to say radiation levels were below regulatory concern after the leachate entered the Schuylkill River from the Sewer Treatment Plant in Pottstown. This plant processes 80,000 to 90,000 gallons of leachate PER DAY. This could actually be a serious risk to exposure in the water supply. Continuous radiation monitoring should be done on the leachate BEFORE it leaves the landfill to go to the sewer treatment plant. Obviously, radiation is traveling with the leachate from the landfill to the sewer treatment plant. This risk was never adequately addressed.

2. The Pottstown Landfill was documented to have contaminated wells around the landfill many years ago. Obviously, radiation from the leachate could be entering people’s wells who are getting water from the contaminated aquifers. To our knowledge, well testing was never done for radiation or other hazardous substances for that matter.

3. While all three cells tested for leachate were found to contain radiation, cell # 7 was 4 times higher than the other two. DEP never did further leachate testing in all cells of the landfill to try to get a broader picture of the radiation problems at the Pottstown Landfill.

4. DEP never did comprehensive radiation testing of Pottstown Landfill GAS for radiation to our knowledge. Even the air testing for radiation downwind documented that beta (tritium) radiation escapes into our community.

5. DEP’s June, 2001, response document for air pollution permits to Occidental and Waste Management for the Pottstown Landfill gas project verified that RADIATION WILL TRAVEL WITH THE GAS THROUGH THE PIPELINE TO OCCIDENTAL (therefore it will be emitted with the gas from the boilers at Occidental since it can’t be burned off and won’t magically disappear).

6. DEP finally admitted that beta (tritium) radiation will harm human health, but says it is safe while it is in the landfill. The problem is your own documents prove it does not stay in the landfill.

7. All kinds of radiation could have escaped into our air and water 24 hours a day from the Pottstown Landfill. Radiation testing by DEP was extremely inadequate.

8. ACE repeatedly asked DEP for continuous perimeter monitoring to include all kinds and amounts of radiation escaping from the Pottstown Landfill. DEP refused.

9. It is impossible for DEP to accurately determine current radiation exposure risks from Pottstown Landfill gas and leachate. Area residents are subjected to this unknown serious health risk on a regular basis.
  • DEP should NOT allow ANY RADIATION into the Pottstown Landfill unless DEP can guarantee our protection from its escape into our air and water.
  • Radiation monitoring must include ALL radiation.
  • Levels of monitoring equipment for what is permitted to be dumped in the Pottstown Landfill must be set at O (ZERO) for alpha, beta, and gama radiation to protect public health.
DEP’s proposed new radiation monitoring plan will not protect public health, especially in the Greater Pottstown area where the Limerick Nuclear Power Plant in addition to the radiation from the Pottstown Landfill already expose us to far too much radiation. When the leukemia rate in the Greater Pottstown area is almost double that of the state, PRECAUTION WITH EVEN EXTREMELY LOW-LEVEL RADIATION IS CRUCIAL.

In this letter to you we have covered only some of our major concerns and questions concerning this Major Permit Modification for Solid Waste Permit No. 100549 for the Pottstown Landfill. This community is already suffering from obvious overexposure to radiation. We need the Precautionary Principle used in every DEP decision about radiation exposure. We need and deserve a public hearing about such a critical issue.

We are awaiting your response to our request to do an Environmental Impact Statement and to have it reported 60 days prior to a public hearing for Pottstown Landfill’s Major Permit Modification No 10005-49.

Thank You,
Dr. Lewis Cuthbert
President, ACE

CC: DEP, Bureau of Radiation Department

P.O. Box 3063
Stowe, PA 19464

disclaimer  |  privacy policy  |  home  |  back to top  |  feedback  |
|  donate online  |  contents  |  contact us  |  join  |  contact web master  |