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Groups Protest Bills to Allow More Radioactive Waste in MI

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A rally against allowing more radioactive waste into the Wayne Disposal Facility is set for 10:40 a.m. Monday. (Coalition to Oppose US Ecology Expansion)
A rally against allowing more radioactive waste into the Wayne Disposal Facility is set for 10:40 a.m. Monday. (Coalition to Oppose US Ecology Expansion)
 By Suzanne Potter, Public News Service - MI - Producer, Contact
December 10, 2018

LANSING, Mich. – The Michigan House of Representatives is expected to take up a proposal this week that critics say would make the state a magnet for radioactive waste from fracking around the country.

The state Senate has already passed SB 1195, which would allow specialized Type I landfills, like the one run by US Ecology in Belleville, to accept radioactive waste measuring 10 times the current federal standard – even 100 times more, with extra precautions.

Diane Weckerle, co-chair of the Coalition to Oppose the Expansion of US Ecology and a board member of Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation, says very few states allow this material.

"You know, you would think that the politicians would learn after the Flint water crisis that they would be concerned,” she states. “This legislation opens the barn doors in Michigan, calling on different states to bring in their radioactive waste."

At issue is a byproduct of fracking called Technologically Enhanced Naturally Occurring Radioactive Material, or TENORM.

A second bill adds a disposal fee of $5 per ton to go toward safety monitoring.

Protesters are rallying Monday morning at the US Ecology facility in Detroit.

The company says it monitors landfill liners and groundwater for safety.

LuAnne Kozma, campaign director of the Committee to Ban Fracking in Michigan, notes the legislation would allow diluted TENORM to be dumped in regular or Type II landfills.

"They are redefining in this bill what is TENORM, so anything that is less than a certain concentration would not even be called TENORM,” she points out. “They can dilute this stuff and bring it all in."

Sean Hammond, deputy policy director of the Michigan Environmental Council, sees the bills as a good first step if rules are tightened on Type II landfills.

"The intent the behind the bills is essentially to set these regulations in law when they arguably were, you know, allowed under the current law anyway,” he explains. “This makes it clearer, and really does start this conversation on limiting TENORM in the state."

But Diane D'Arrigo, radioactive waste project director for the Nuclear Information and Resource Service, says there is no safe level of radiation.

Her nonprofit group says certain byproducts of the waste dissolve into rainwater and will end up in the water supply eventually, because liners only have a 20 to 30-year lifespan.

"They're not intended, even, to isolate material for the thousands of years that some of this fracking waste stays legitimately dangerous," she stresses.

D'Arrigo adds the legislation would leave it up to the landfill owners, not regulators, to evaluate incoming waste for potential radioactive exposure.

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