In the natural gas industry, waste left over after horizontal drilling operations is colloquially referred to as "drill cuttings". These cuttings typically contain significant levels of radiation emitting materials such as radium, uranium, and radon. Radium, a substance known to increase the risk of lymphoma, bone cancer, and blood disorders, is known to be particularly prevalent in this type of drilling waste.
Since 2010, landfills across West Virginia have been accepting the potentially cancer-causing cuttings without any formal radiation monitoring or control program in place. In the year 2013 alone, the Wetzel County landfill became the resting place for some 250,000 tons of unmonitored radioactive cuttings from drilling operations in the region.
"We are just not set up for this . . . We never, in the history of the U.S., have placed this radioactive waste in local landfills"
- Bill Hughes, Chairman of the Wetzel County Solid Waste Authority.
Just recently in 2014, the West Virginia Legislature finally passed a law requiring state-owned landfills to monitor the radiation levels of any cuttings deposited therein. After accepting these cuttings for four straight years, landfills in Wetzel, Brooke, Wood and Harrison counties are just now beginning the process of installing radiation detectors. Notwithstanding this recent commencement of radiation detection efforts, neither the state nor federal governments have done anything to control radiation contaminations already emanating from these sites.
Furthermore, some industry officials believe detection efforts will merely provide false security, only detecting the worst loads of waste and overlooking others. The true solution, in their opinion, is to monitor for radiation levels at the horizontal well bore prior to arrival at the landfill. However, state legislators seem reluctant to impose these additional regulations on drilling companies despite the fact that they are a simple solution that would detect harmful materials before they reach local landfills.
The effects of these omissions are currently unknown. However, the gratuitous amount of radioactive materials being deposited in landfills that are only suited for household waste presents the potential for disastrous damage to the health of waste workers and local residents alike.
Hartley Law Group, PLLC, is a personal injury and toxic tort law firm with offices in Wheeling and Charleston, West Virginia. Our attorneys provide aggressive representation and excellent legal advice for clients who have suffered from exposure to harmful materials. With more than 30 years of legal experience and a heavy focus on toxic exposure cases, our legal team fights for positive results in personal injury cases.