North Dakota Investigates Potential Radioactive Leaks

Several trailers in Watford City, North Dakota are to be investigated by federal and state health officials as they are believed to be leaking potentially radioactive filter socks and debris while parked on rural areas southwest of the city.

Leaking fluids from a waste bag were believed to be potentially radioactive. Photo courtesy of:

The trailers owned by RP Services were parked on a property owned by Russ and Mary Williams. It was found out that the Williams had a separate company that had been previously involved in an illegal filter sock disposal last summer, which led to a $27,000 fine at the McKenzie County landfill operation.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has sent a special agent to conduct criminal investigations to the case while a radiation control team from the state Health Department on Friday.

With the North Dakota Health Department’s waste management division, Brad Torgerson said they determined that the levels of radiation “do not appear to present any public health hazards.” He added that the company, RP Services from Riverton, Wyoming, was required to put the waste in proper containers, as well as present a cleanup plan. This means that a formal enforcement action may be possible.

Dan O’Malley, an EPA special agent, informed state health officials of the waste. However, when contacted by the Tribune, he said that he is no position to confirm the investigation made by his agency.

What caused the imposition of the hefty fine is the fact that filter socks are known to be sources of radioactive material as they have huge amounts of naturally occurring radiation from geology down to the well hole. This is the very reason the Health Department say these filters should not be landfilled anywhere in the state. Instead, they should only be handled by certified companies for proper disposal in other states.

When discovered, filter socks can be subject to a $1,000 fine per piece, which could amount to nearly $250,000 in fines to date. The leak from those loaded trainers was actually reported Thursday to McKenzie County’s landfill director Rick Schreiber. He said he has adopted a tough policy and that the first landfill in the country to install radiation detection pedals to monitor every load coming into the landfill is his.

Schreiber said he felt sick and mad when he saw images of the scene, and immediately, he contacted local, state, and national agencies about the incident.

“When you can clearly see liquid dripping and running off, there are violations. When they (socks) are that orange color, we know they’re hot. This is the most (filter socks) I’ve ever seen,” Schreiber said.

In North Dakota, any material with a radiation level of more than 5 picocuries is to be classified as hazardous.

Meanwhile, RP Services spokesman Gil Roden said the company is already taking steps to ensure proper disposal of the filter socks. He added that although North Dakota’s protocol on filter socks is new to his company, they are taking every necessary step.

“Now we know how to do it.”

Roden also said they expect to pay $7,500 per container for the disposal of the filter socks.