TOPEKA – A Senate bill heard by the Kansas Natural Resources Committee would amend the definition of low-level radioactive materials, which would allow waste containing them to be buried in landfills.
Members of the Kansas Department of Health and Environment spoke before the committee in support of Senate Bill 125, saying that the current law’s definition was too broad and should not include naturally occurring radioactive materials, also known by the acronym “NORM.”
William Bider, director of waste management for the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, said that NORM is already in natural materials such as rocks. Bider said the current law, which was put in place in the 1980s, does not allow burial of low-level radioactive waste, and that the definition of NORM needs to be changed so these materials are not lumped into a group with materials that have high levels of radioactive waste.
Bider said even though burial of this material is prohibited by law, it’s already in landfills because of oil and gas drilling waste and construction demolition debris that has been going on for years.
He said nobody was aware that these materials had low-level NORM when the law was put in place, but it was discovered the last few years when they started doing sampling of drilling waste and comparing with other states. Now that they realize the disposal conflicts with the law so they need to alter the definition so it complies with the law.
“It’s safe levels, it’s low levels, and we want to make it legal,” Bider said.
Bider said the current law isn’t clear on what should be done with radioactive waste, it just says that it can’t be buried, so some waste companies have to take their radioactive waste to other states where they have proper disposal sites.
Bider said NORM levels range from low-level, mid-level, and high-level, which indicate how the waste should be disposed, with the low-level being unrestricted.
Bider and Tom Conley, chief of the radiation and asbestos control program at KDHE, said their tests show that drilling waste appears to be at a low level in Kansas but it varies state-to-state because of the types of rock.
Bider said drilling companies in Kansas are aware of environmental liability issues and want to be in compliance with the law.
“Some of the drillers would still want to make sure that the landfills that they send theirs to are legally able to take material with NORM in it,” Bider said.
Some waste management groups gave written support of the bill, but no opponents were present nor provided written testimony.
Kelsie Jennings is a University of Kansas senior from Olathe, Kan., studying journalism.