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Michigan Governor Not Doing Enough for Radioactive Waste Disposal

environment1Environmentalists are always concerned about our human impact on the environment, but not ever day a state governor gets involved in the nitty-gritty details of contamination.

Governor Rick Snyder issued a review on Monday, August 25 to go over the state’s standards for how facilities dispose of certain radioactive waste in landfills. The general public has expressed resentment regarding the issue of radioactive material generated in Pennsylvania being shipped to Michigan.

Because this issue raises a health concern, the Department of Environmental Quality will call in the experts to study Michigan state rules for dealing with radioactive waste that was last edited in 1996. The major concern is that the standards are outdated and allow other states to dump their toxic waste in Michigan.

It all boiled down to a shipment of radioactive material produced by hydraulic fracturing — also known as “fracking” — which is a controversial process in order to access oil and gas trapped below the Earth’s surface.

Fracking has attracted a lot of negative press lately as researchers have discovered it could be a leading cause of groundwater contamination in some states. Over 80% of the most hazardous waste sites in the United States have negatively impacted the quality of nearby groundwater, and fracking is a major contributor of contaminating American drinking water. Michigan is one of the states that relies heavily on both groundwater and surface water as a natural resource.

“We believe the standard in Michigan remains protective of our people and our natural resources,” Snyder said, “but this advisory group of diverse experts, similar to the assembly that developed our standards, can provide an important, science-based and current review to make sure that’s still the case.”

The expert panel includes individuals from various health fields, waste disposal experts, oil and gas representatives, and other industry areas. Groundwater contamination is not only hazardous to local communities, but also to the environment. Only 3% of the Earth’s water is fresh water, and nearly 400 billion gallons of fresh water are used every day in the U.S.

Critics were not convinced of change based on Snyder’s statement.

“The state’s action in authorizing hazardous radioactive waste to be dumped here is utterly and completely incompatible with everything Pure Michigan should stand for,” said Mark Schauer, Snyder’s Democratic re-election opponent.

Wayne County’s disposal landfill, the state’s only landfill certified to dispose of technologically enhanced normally occurring radioactive material (TENORM), collects rocks, soils, and other naturally-occurring substances that have a higher-than-normal radioactive level.

This radioactive material is caused by hydraulic fracturing. This process is done by creating horizontal veins in the underlying bedrock off of a vertical well drilled into the Earth. Then the well is filled with water (and sand and chemicals) at high pressure speed which causes fissures in the bedrock, thus releasing natural gas and oil or even groundwater into the created cracks. The gas or oil is then forced to travel through horizontal well and flow up into storage tanks for later use.

The water used to crack the rock as well as any groundwater sources are then at risk to becoming contaminated.

Wayne Disposal in Michigan has agreed to take 36 tons of Pennsylvania’s waste that includes sludge and other byproducts of fracking. The landfill at Wayne Disposal is designed to contain such radioactive waste; it boasts a double liner with leak-detecting sensors.

“It’s an ideal place to dispose of any materials that have low levels of radioactivity,” said Dave Crumrine, spokesman for Environmental Quality Co.

The shipment of Pennsylvania’s radioactive waste has been currently put on hold until further notice. Hydraulic fracturing is legal and is under no federal regulations due to loopholes and exemptions in various environmental acts such as the 2005 Energy Policy Act and the Clean Water Act.

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