Kentucky Community Seeks Remedy for Landfill Contaminated by Illegally Dumped Fracking Waste


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Since the mid-1980s, residents of a rural town in eastern Kentucky have been battling a local landfill that borders two schools and a major water source. As Austyn Gaffney reported for the Natural Resources Defense Council’s onEarth, two thousand tons of radioactive waste and other contaminated materials have been dumped illegally into the Blue Ridge Landfill in Estill County. The landfill is just a six-minute walk from two county schools. Most of the recently-dumped radioactive waste is a byproduct of  fracking, the controversial process that uses water and chemical additives to extract oils and natural oils from rocks or boreholes.

Now the county and its residents face a rotten dilemma, to accept Blue Ridge’s proposal to cap the radioactive waste or to hold out in hopes of having the waste removed. In 2015, Kentucky’s Energy and Environment Cabinet opted for the cap as a “short-term” solution. As Gaffney reported, “When submitting its risk assessment of capping the waste in place, Blue Ridge Landfill described a worst-case scenario of the radiation contaminating groundwater for the next 2,700 years.” The alternative—removing the waste—has problems, too, including radiation exposure to workers to during removal, risk for accidental collisions and spills while an estimated 1,900 truckloads of waste is transferred, not to mention the difficulty of locating the radioactive waste in the seven-acre landfill.

At this point, members of the communities are torn. They do not want the situation to worsen, and many resent having been forced into this dilemma. After months of advocating at public hearings and submitting public comments, the Concerned Citizens of Estill County filed a petition in June 2019 for the state to reconsider its acceptance of Blue Ridge’s proposal to cap the waste. A decision on the petition is expected in April 2019.

Prior to Gaffney’s onEarth report, coverage of the contaminated landfill and the Estill County community’s long-term efforts to obtain a remedy have been limited to a few local news outlets. In 2017, AlterNet published a report on fracking in Kentucky that mentioned Estill County two times. In January 2019, the Earth Island Journal republished Gaffney’s report.

Source: Austyn Gaffney, “A Small Town’s Battle Against Radioactive Fracking Waste,” onEarth (Natural Resources Defense Council), January 9, 2019, www.nrdc.org/onearth/small-towns-battle-against-radioactive-fracking-waste.

Student Researchers: Emma D’Amico and Scott Lynch (Drew University)

Faculty Evaluator: Lisa Lynch (Drew University)

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