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Other views: It’s illegal and it’s radioactive

One of the explanations voiced by at least one North Dakota official regarding discovery of a second illegal dump of low-level radioactive oil field waste, is that there is no in-state disposal site. It costs companies a lot of money to truck the stuff to legal landfills in Colorado or Idaho. Therefore, the argument goes, bad actors in oil country will try to get away with illegally dumping loads of “filter socks” in remote locations.

An inference could be gleaned from that sentiment that illegal dumping is North Dakota’s fault because there are no in-state facilities. But by even hinting, however subtly, that the state has any responsibility for the illegality speaks more to officialdom’s “business friendly” mantra. It should come as no surprise that some companies believe the rule in North Dakota is “anything goes” if it’s about keeping business happy. It follows that if they think they can get away with it, they will try. And often they do get away with it.

The latest find was at an abandoned gasoline station near Noonan, a small town east of Crosby in Divide County. There was twice as much material (200 industrial sized bags filled with filter socks) and it was twice as radioactive, as similar material that was found on open trailers near Watford City about three weeks ago. There is no telling how many other illegal dumps are out there, as yet undiscovered.

The situation is another indication the state is running behind when it comes to effective regulation of toxic waste. More than 25 tons of radioactive filter socks are generated every day in oil country, and there appears to be no effective tracking method to determine where it ends up. It is known that in addition to the Noonan and Watford City finds, companies are illegally dumping mixed loads that contain radioactive socks into landfills. They are fined if they are caught.

Two factors confirm lax monitoring and regulation: If caught, they are fined. Of the few who are caught, the fines are not harsh enough to be deterrents. For some companies, a fine is a cost of doing business. Fines and other sanctions need to be far harsher.

Further indication the state is in catch-up mode: The Health Department is only now writing rules for tracking radioactive waste. A draft will be ready for public review in June. Not until June, and then only a draft. It will be months before new rules are in force. Given the traditional reluctance of agencies and legislators to adopt meaningful regulations, new rules might be more show than substance.

Noonan Mayor Cyndie Fagerbakie, speaking to the Associated Press, expressed outrage. “This is blatant disregard of the health and welfare of our community,” she said. Calling the state’s lack of oversight “ludicrous,” she added, “It’s criminal and the people responsible should be punished very, very stringently.”

Good luck with that, mayor.

The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead’s Editorial Board formed this opinion.