Tullytown fights to keep radioactive waste out of landfill
|| The Tullytown Landfill glows green in this photo illustration inspired by careless cartoon nuclear worker Homer Simpson. Tullytown Council President Ed Armstrong (left) and Councilman Joe Shellenberger, who met in the shadow of the dump last week, are opposed to the National Waste plan to bury low-level radioactive sludge in the landfill.
TULLYTOWN, Pa. – Borough leaders want “Trash Mountain” to grow green, not glow green. Thats why they’re fighting a plan to bring radioactive sludge to the Tullytown Landfill.
Ten stories high, the greening mound of buried rubbish casts a literal and figurative shadow over Tullytown Cove and this town of 2,100, where taxpayers get annual home improvement “gifts” of $5,000 funded by fees from the state-of-the-art dump.
The situation is the result of an agreement a past generation of leaders made in 1988 with the owner of the dump, Waste Management Inc., America’s leading disposer of trash and the operator of two other landfills and an incinerator within a mile of the Tullytown mountain.
Borough council and other local leaders meet tomorrow evening at 7 to discuss the Waste Management appeal, already approved by state and federal regulators, to bring in more than 50 truckloads of sludge laced with traces of radioactive material from the uniforms of nuclear plant workers for burial in the Tullytown mountain.
Officials aren’t as worried about the mountain glowing green as they are about radioactivity reaching the nearby Delaware River and the intake for the water piped from there to homes and businesses in Tullytown and neighboring Bristol Township.
“Radioactive material that might leach out into the river right where the intake for drinking water is. That’s too close for comfort for me,” said Council President Ed Armstrong, whose top ally in the fight is Councilman Joe Shellenberger, the Iraq War vet.
Borough Clerk Beth Pirolli is also concerned: “I think it’s asking too much of the river, putting it under too much stress.” She also said Tullytown’s might be the first dump in the state being asked to take so-called “low-level” radioactive waste.
“The state and federal government have been trying to find a way to dispose of this stuff and it looks like we’re supposed to be the test case,” Pirolli said.
She, the councilmen and Borough Manager Andrew Warren also agree that Tullytown could face disposal questions like these long into the future. Said Shellenberger, who brought his 11-year-old son to a photo shoot: “We’ve got to be vigilant – and diligent about it.”
Which is not easy under the current system for alerting the public and local authorities about plans like Waste Management’s to bring in truckloads of “super sack” polyethylene bags holding sludge from the Royersford sewage treatment plant that services the cleaner which launders the uniforms of workers at Montgomery County’s Limerick and other nuclear plants in the region.
Trucks were slated to start delivery in mid July when a newspaper report put the kibosh on it, at least temporarily. It turns out someone tipped off a reporter to the official notice of the radioactive dumping plan after it appeared in an obscure legislative newspaper published in Harrisburg.
Once the radioactive story broke, Warren explained, “we realized their technical notification was in one of those many volumes of information Waste Management sends into us every month.”
As she displayed the four-foot stack of binders and booklets and notices and permits and technical data sent in so far this year by Waste Management, Pirolli said “you could look at it and maybe guess what it all means. But we’d have to hire three scientists and keep them reading full time to keep track of it all.”
Even with its $54 million surplus, the Tullytown government is unlikely to spring for the scientists. But it was able to buy an outdoor shed for storage of all the paperwork Waste Management has sent it over the years. It’s 18 feet deep, 15 feet high and 10 feet across.
Notification is another problem Shellenberger wants to tackle in its discussions with Waste Management. But first they’ll have to tackle fear of radioactive waste, which Waste Management contends is wildly overblown in this case.
Its dumping plan exposes no one to radiation at any time, National Waste said in a statement that noted everyone is exposed to a harmless amount of radiation flying an airliner or getting an x-rays or CAT scan.
National Waste said its landfill liners and other environmental protections made a radiation leak impossible. In a “worst-case” accident scenario ordered by federal regulators it said people in Lower Bucks County would be exposed to 0.0000000053 of one millirem, or nothing compared with the 350 a year everyone takes in from the sun, household appliances and medical sources.
Still, Shellenberger and the others are wary of the waste: “They say it has a half life of 30 years, meaning it loses half its potency every 30 years. Well, what about all those years it is potent? And if it somehow leaks out and gets in the river, everyone’s going to end up drinking it.”
It might be trace, Shellenberger said, but there was enough radioactive waste for federal regulators to be able to track it from the uniforms, through the Royersford cleaners and on to the municipal treatment plant and its sludge bins.
And the councilman noted that local sewage authorities and National Waste, for all its expertise in disposal, still haven’t come up an operational plan for getting rid of all the rainwater that has trickled through the dump over the years and been siphoned out of the bottom as a foul slurry called leachate.
There’s so much ammonia in the leachate, Waste Management is able to siphon that off in commercial amounts. Until only recent times, when the Morrisville sewage plant started taking it in, the lechate was stored in giant containers or was simply poured back over the dump to trickle down again, Shellenberger said.
“All kinds of things trickle down in the water, basically everything you throw out. God only knows what goes in there,” said Pirolli. And it’s much more than water laced with wasted milk and soda or squished foodstuffs. Household cleaners and chemicals and roadway oils and greases also end up in the trash stream in violation of recycling laws.
Warren, an old political hand who was a Bucks County supervisor and the regional state transportation commissioner, said the radioactive dispute might come down to the what the lawyers for both sides work out and tell their clients to do – based on the language in the inch-thick agreement Tullytown made with Waste Management two decades ago.
“To me it’s pretty clear, right there on page two of the agreement,” said Warren. “There shall be no radioactive material. But we’ll see what the lawyers say about that and what else they’re reading in there.”
A National Waste spokeswoman, Geri Rush, said the agreement permits the company to bring in household waste, including sludge from municipal waste treatment plants, and that the trace amounts of radioactive material in the Royersford sludge slated for disposal in Tullytown were deemed safe by state and federal regulators.
So tomorrow’s council discussion of Tullytown’s 20-year-old deal with Waste Management is high stakes: Does the town want peace of mind? Or the $25 million it’s in for over the next three years while the company completes the project dumping on the opposite side of the mound overlooking Tullytown Cove today?
©The Trentonian 2008
Filed under: nuclear | Tagged: fights to keep, of landfill, out, radioactive waste, Tullytown | Leave a comment »