The Alliance For A Clean Environment
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DEP Radiation Testing 3/11/97
Why is the public skeptical of reported results?


Waste Management’s own “glowing” test results in 1985 indicated a high level of radiation in the landfill leachate, which they did not publicly disclose.

Disclosure of the 1985 high radioactive test results became public by a private citizen, Bill Fontaine, in March of 1996. In June of 1996, Waste Management hired Bruce Molholt, a consultant with Environmental Resources Management of Exton, to test the leachate. Mr. Molholt claimed the leachate had no hazardous radioactive materials. Since hired by Waste Management, that determination was no surprise. What happened to the radiation? To quote the Mercury editorial, the findings of Waste Management’s “experts” are giving off an odor as heavy as the stench from the landfill.

Bill Fontaine then asked DEP to conduct a study of the leachate for radiation. Berks County Commissioner, Mark Scott, requested a witness to the testing which was denied by Waste Management. Scott said he suspects the state tester (DEP) and the tested (Waste Management) have something to hide. “DEP is in bed with Waste Management to manipulate testing to limit any embarrassment to the operation.”

Scott and Fontaine requested DEP to drill core samples deep into the landfill. DEP refused. They also asked to be allowed to watch as the samples were taken. Waste Management denied their request.

DEP agreed to do the study in April, but the study was not formulated until June. In July, 1997, seven DEP officials spent a week at the landfill collecting samples from the facility’s leachate, groundwater, soil and the nearby Goose Run creek.

There were several problems and flaws in the process.

1. Waste Management was allowed to “cap” most of the landfill by covering it with plastic and clay before the tests were conducted. WHY?

2. DEP took these samples from only four locations on the outside of the landfill. NONE were taken from INSIDE the landfill itself. WHY?

3. Ron Furlan, DEP’s waste management director, said the agency tried to impact landfill operations as little as possible. WHY? DEP’s purpose is supposed to be the protection of public safety. This agency should not be concerned with the inconvenience of landfill operators, whose facility may be a health hazard. The DEP explanation of why no samples were taken inside the landfill itself is unacceptable!

4. DEP’s OBLIGATION was to test at the landfill. Why wasn’t that done? DEP’s explanation was that there was no reason to test in the landfill since there was no indication that “the stuff” was getting out. “The stuff?” With all the radioactive dumping and the report of at least one leukemia victim next to the landfill, shouldn’t the DEP have at least looked at such a possibility?

5. Obviously the landfill had some influence on the four locations selected for sampling. Could this be the reason that none of the four sample locations seem to be downwind of the landfill?

6. DEP did not have records available on the depth of samples taken. When questioned they thought about 3 feet. However, a requested report by a citizen later revealed depth varied from N/A, to 8 inches, to just one at the deepest depth of only 21 inches (less than two feet).

7. Waste Management refused to allow independent experts to watch the sample taking. WHY?

8. Dr. Ivna Shanbaky, DEP Radiation Protection Manager, announced the results of radiation tests on 3/11/97. Her heavy accent made it impossible for many people to clearly understand the explanation of such a difficult issue. The explanation she gave for very high beta levels include the following statements: “radiation occurs everywhere”, “we are radioactive ourselves”, “no evidence exists indicating the degree of radiation discovered would threaten people’s health”, ”there is no evidence that radiation levels found at the landfill pose a concern for human health and safety.” ACE believes Dr. Shanbaky ignored important studies from Nagasaki which show that there is no safe dose of radiation. She also ignored recent human data from Chernobyl, Three Mile Island, and Savannah River indicating that the lowest doses of ionizing radiation cause the greatest damage per unit of radiation. WHY? Does this DEP employee have a right to dismiss public concern with accurate but misleading and irrelevant statements? Once again DEP ignores the relevant issues: the total amount of radioactive waste dumped at the Pottstown Landfill and that impact on the health of the people in Pottstown. Realistically, Dr. Shanbaky or anyone else cannot guarantee our safety from this threat. If she claims differently, we want to see her peer reviewed science.

DEP Meeting on Radiation Results, March 11, 1997

The meeting itself was insulting, offensive, and indefensible.

1. Instead of helping the public uncover the truth, people came away with unanswered questions and shabby explanations.

2. Facilitators were hired by DEP to run the meeting. These facilitators systematically limited public input and manipulated the public’s right to participate in an open manner.

3. DEP wasted taxpayer money on facilitators who effectively limited, deflected, and deferred comments and questions by the public on crucial health and safety issues in our community. These facilitators used a large portion of the public time with their process. They insisted on having two people ask questions at a time, then refer back to the first answer followed by the second. This made the entire process terribly confusing, which we believe was by design.

The DEP plan seemed to be to intimidate people and obstruct public comment. No one was allowed to ask more than one question or make all relevant comments, which disabled the people who knew the most about the issues. Why wasn’t the public afforded the right to hear and understand both sides of the issue? The meeting was even later divided into small groups in various locations, which further prevented the audience from hearing all concerns and discussions.

4. DEP used taxpayer money to pay for this public meeting. They then had the audacity to seat Waste Management at the table as co-presenters. WHY? The public’s questions were for DEP, and this meeting was about DEP’s radiation testing results.

5. The NRC and EPA attended and passed the buck to DEP. These agencies also had lame excuses for not regulating radiation in the Pottstown Landfill. It became crystal clear at this meeting that no one is monitoring for or protecting the public from radiation dumped in the Pottstown Landfill. This is a dangerous gap in regulations. No one will claim responsibility for radiation in this landfill. There has been no research on what the accumulation of radiation in this landfill will do to human health. Could the cancer results of MCHD be one of the answers? One area doctor described the results of the cancer investigation as “the tip of the iceberg” for our community.

6. This DEP meeting on radiation results was also a devastating example of the way studies can be done and numbers can used to manipulate results or deny their meanings – while many lives are in the balance. More smoke and mirrors – radiation results were done to what DEP refers to as background, as though that makes the radiation we are exposed to any less dangerous. In the first place, even if it made any difference, background could only be accurate if it had been taken about 50 years age.

7. This meeting caused many people in our community to lose complete faith in the system. It was anything but a shining example of democracy in action.

If our government protective agencies try to tell us that they can not measure radioactive releases in the Pottstown Landfill gases, then they must send us the experts who can. We need to talk to them. Many types of radioactive wastes in massive amounts were dumped at the Pottstown Landfill. This community must know if ANY radiation in ANY amount will be traveling with the landfill gas, and what will happen if any radiation is emitted from the Occidental Chemical boilers.

If studies are not available on radiation in landfill gas, how can ANYONE guarantee our safety from the enormous amounts of accumulated radiation which has been dumped in the Pottstown Landfill? It would be unthinkable to ignore this issue.

Pottstown Landfill gas should not be used in the experimental pipeline to boiler project just on the radiation issue alone. Until DEP, EPA, or the NRC can provide documented RESEARCHED proof to us that the radiation in the Pottstown Landfill will not travel with the methane and will not cause harm to our health, it would be IRRESPONSIBLE to approve any permits to send this gas offsite.

This community has a right to see all EPA and DEP peer reviewed research documents proving that transporting and burning Pottstown Landfill gas is safe and that it will not bring further health problems to a community already seriously impacted. We want to see the science background and have this explained to us, BEFORE our hearing and before any permits are issued. Just because there are other places landfill gas has been used does not prove it is safe. Was the landfill gas at all these other locations tested comprehensively prior to use? Was the pipe used for transport then tested for exposure to toxics over time?

If no such research exists, then the individuals at agencies who make decisions to permit landfill gas projects must be held accountable. Any and all future health and safety problems associated with transporting and burning toxic, contaminated gas, that also could contain radiation, will be the responsibility of all polluters and agencies involved.


P.O. Box 3063
Stowe, PA 19464

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