Emails show Kentucky’s slow response to radioactive waste

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — Emails obtained by a newspaper show that it took months for Kentucky regulators to take action after getting a tip that low-level nuclear waste was being shipped to a landfill.

The emails, which were obtained by The Courier-Journal through West Virginia’s open records act, give new details on how Kentucky officials first learned about the radioactive shipments and how they responded.

According to the emails, a West Virginia bureaucrat tipped off a Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services worker in July. Officials with the Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet were notified the same day.

Seven months later state officials issued a warning to landfill operators and ordered the company hauling the waste to stop dumping it in Kentucky.

The newspaper reports agency officials pointed fingers at each other when asked about a lack of response in July.

Health Cabinet spokesman Doug Hogan said in a written statement that the agency told West Virginia officials that the waste was not allowed in Kentucky, and then passed the information to the officials at the Energy Cabinet “so that they could take action as needed, as this particular issue related to their landfill licensees.”

Hogan said it was only after a detailed investigation starting in January that the Health Cabinet had the legal authority to issue cease and desist letters to the Kentucky company hauling the waste and to landfills where it was found. The waste came from fracking operations in West Virginia, Ohio and Pennsylvania.

Energy Cabinet officials say it is ultimately the Health Cabinet that is responsible for any radioactive waste in the state.

“Should the Division of Waste Management have done more? I suppose one can argue maybe we should have,” Tony Hatton, the division’s director, said. “I don’t know. But the reality of it is, this material is managed by the Cabinet for Health and Family Services, and they told the West Virginia regulators it was strictly forbidden.”

Since January, the Energy Cabinet has coordinated with the Health Cabinet to investigate the issue. Officials declined to release correspondence on the matter citing the ongoing investigation.

Louisville attorney Tom FitzGerald, who serves as director of the Kentucky Resources Council, has been looking into the matter independently.

“It’s not a matter of blame,” he said. “It’s a matter that the process is obviously broken. The agencies were not effectively communicating, and the bottom line is you have a bunch of exposed workers.”

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