Today, the state’s Solid Waste Advisory Board delved into the process of dumping waste from nuclear facilities in Tennessee landfills.
The program known as BSFR came under fire earlier this year, when residents in Rutherford County first discovered that their landfill had been participating for years.
Representatives from companies that process the waste told the board that it is no more radioactive than dirt. To ensure that, they say it’s screened, sampled and inspected multiple times.
Landfill engineer Jimmy Flemming says BSFR material is ultimately mixed with regular trash.
“We know more about that waste than we know actually from waste that comes from your home. So. And it poses no risk.”
But members of END-IT, a citizen group pushing for a permanent end to the BSFR program, say they aren’t willing to trust that the companies are truly following procedure or that the state is adequately monitoring them. That mistrust comes in part from the fact that local officials were kept in the dark, as Rutherford County mayor Ernest Burgess testified.
“I have reviewed and researched all of my predecessors’ files regarding landfills and the central solid waste planning board, and I’ve reviewed all of their minutes that go back some several years, and there is absolutely no mention of the terminology BSFR in all of the documentation that I’ve been able to review.”
Because the dumping site is privately owned, there was no legal obligation to notify local officials.
An independent consultant told the board she sees no major problems with the program. However, she did say that state policies contain inconsistencies and the related paperwork is processed too slowly.
In one of the last bills passed in this year’s legislative session, Tennessee’s General Assembly imposed a temporary moritorium on BSFR (Bulk Survey for Release) material in Rutherford County’s Middle Point Landfill. That moritorium is to last for as long as it takes the Municipal Solid Waste Advisory Board to conduct a study into the program. Its recommendations are due on Labor Day. The moritorium does not apply to the four other Tennessee landfills which accept BSFR material.
According to a document submitted today by the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, most of the BSFR waste being dumped in Tennessee is “construction/demolition debris, soils, concrete rubble, and similar materials which have extremely low levels of incidental radioactive material, derived from decommissioning projects at commercially operated nuclear facilities. It is what remains after the waste materials that need to go to a licensed low-level radioactive waste disposal facility have been segregated out and properly displaced.” TDEC officials say the material cannot make up more than 5 percent of the landfill’s total contents in any given year. And although the amount going into Middle Point landfill has increased, they say it has never exceeded one tenth of one percent of the total amount of trash dumped there.
The state has set a maximum radiation dose of 1 millirem per year for any landfill accepting BSFR. That’s the exposure that a theoretical “resident farmer” would experience-someone living directly over the landfill after it is closed and capped, drinking water from a well dug into the groundwater below the landfill, eating produce grown in the soil there and eating meat from livestock that graze on the land. Because each landfill location is geologically different, they require unique sets of limits on the amount of radioactive isotopes which can be allowed and still remain below the state’s maximum dose. While those limits and procedures are approved by the state, they were developed by a company handling the waste.
When asked if they knew of any infractions of BSFR regulations, two of the fours processing company representatives said they didn’t know of any. One said there was an incident in which a truck driver stole a large piece of valuable metal to sell for scrap. The metal piece was found and disposed of properly. Another said a math error lead to waste with too high a level of radioactivity being dumped in a landfill. He said his company reported the error to TDEC, then reduced the amount of BSFR material sent to that landfill for the rest of the year so that the total amount would stay within the 1 millirem limit.