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Eastern Montanans Demand Answers And Stronger Rules At Radioactive Oil Waste Hearing


October 2, 2019 | View PDF

GLENDIVE, Mont. – The Montana Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) held the first of two hearings soliciting public comment for draft rules to oversee the disposal of radioactive oil waste. In a packed, standing-room-only hearing room, community members called for strengthening the rules and expressed concern over a report that found contamination in groundwater monitoring wells at the state’s only operating disposal facility for radioactive oil waste, Oaks Disposal. Oaks is located 26 miles northwest of Glendive.

Monitoring reports provided to DEQ by Oaks Disposal in February of 2019 found increased levels of chloride, radium-226, and radium-228 in surrounding groundwater-monitoring wells from testing conducted in late 2018.

Prior to the formal hearing, DEQ officials facilitated a question and answer session. During this session, Glendive rancher and Northern Plains member Seth Newton asked “When did DEQ learn about the notable 2018 groundwater contamination? What have you done about it, and how long did DEQ plan on waiting to tell the landowners and community?”

DEQ officials responded that they were not aware of the contamination report despite the document having been provided to a Northern Plains member by the DEQ days prior to the hearing. The cover also has the Department’s “RECEIVED FEB 28, 2019, Dept. of Enviro. Quality” stamp on its first page.

One representative said, “I’m not tracking on that,” and another representative said, “We will follow up on that and get back to you.” None of the DEQ representatives present stated any knowledge of the contamination, nor did they provide any indication that corrective action was being taken.

According to the report, “Increases in chloride concentrations were observed” at two of Oaks Disposal’s groundwater monitoring wells. The “sum of radium-226 and 228 was well above the groundwater standard.” The report also noted, “It is likely that abundant spring 2018 precipitation created increased runoff between the active landfill area and the storm water pond… In turn, the drainage acted as a recharge point, rather than a discharge point, for local groundwater.”

Northern Plains members, including numerous farmers and ranchers concerned about pollution to ground and surface water used in their operations, were among those testifying. All who testified were proponents of the state’s efforts to establish rules for radioactive oil waste disposal, but the vast majority expressed concern that the current rules are too weak. A repeated demand from community members was that Montana create rules that are as stringent as neighboring North Dakota’s, where the vast majority of radioactive oil waste is produced and trucked across state lines.

The DEQ’s most recent draft of rules quadruples the level of radioactive material allowed in disposal facilities above previous rule drafts. The level has been raised from 50 picocuries to 200 picocuries per gram, which is also four times the level allowed in North Dakota.

“With a radioactivity limit four times North Dakota’s, Montana is begging to become North Dakota’s dumping ground,” said Newton in his formal testimony. “We can do better.”


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