Radioactive Waste From Bakken Oil Fields Raises Concerns About Local Water Contamination
By Katie Rucke
Editor’s note: Some names have been changed in this article to protect the identities of certain individuals who came to MintPress with concerns about how this landfill would affect the health and well-being of those who lived nearby and depended on water sources the landfill could potentially pollute. Several days after we interviewed those individuals, some have expressed concern about the possible ramifications they could face for publishing this story, which is why their identities are being protected. The purpose of this story is to highlight environmental issues that are in the interests of the public and residents, as well as their right to be informed of potentially harmful activities occurring in their area.
The 200 or so people who call Lindsay, MT, home likely never imagined they would find themselves in the middle of an environmental battle fueled by radioactive waste. But that’s exactly what happened in the small community of farmers and ranchers in Eastern Montana after a local farmer opened a landfill and started collecting naturally occurring radioactive waste materials generated by the Bakken oil fields in North Dakota.
Known as Oaks Disposal Services landfill, the dump site is the creation of Ross Oakland and his wife, Tara. The duo are Montana-based farmers who have been growing wheat, peas and lentils on their farm in Lindsay since 1992.
In an interview with MintPress, Oakland said he got the idea to build a landfill on his property after an oil company began to drill on land adjacent to his farmland. Oakland, who worked as a driller in the 1980s after graduating from high school, noticed the oil company didn’t have a pit to dump the waste materials, so he asked a “company man” what was being done with the materials.
“Back when I was a driller, everything went into a pit on location and (we) just buried (the materials),” Oakland recalled. “Now they are environmentally friendly.”
Inspired by the new “environmentally friendly” approach Oakland said the oil companies were taking, he called Montana’s Department of Environmental Quality and went through a two-year approval process for the state’s first, and currently only, Class II Solid Waste Management System.
Open since June 3, 2013, Oakland’s 23.1-acre landfill accepts solid waste primarily related to the exploration and production of oil and gas. This includes sludge, drill cuttings, filter socks and pit liners, among other materials.
Oakland stressed that Montana allows almost anyone to operate a landfill, as long as the dump site is built correctly and can withstand naturally occurring radioactive material (NORM) that contains no more than 30 picocuries of radiation per gram. Picocuries are how the intensity of radioactive material is measured.
Oakland noted that North Dakota landfills don’t accept any NORM waste that is over five picocuries per gram, which is why the waste is being sent to states such as Montana.
To ensure that the waste material doesn’t seep into the ground and—more importantly—the town’s water supply, Oakland said he created a “state-of-the-art facility” that includes two “top of the line” liners, an 18-inch layer of gravel, four monitoring walls around the perimeter of the landfill, a basal layer, as well as a leachate solution system. MintPress was unable to independently verify this.
Some of Oakland’s neighbors say they are concerned about the toxic materials being brought into their town from North Dakota. They claim that Oakland’s landfill is ruining the local land, air and water, and it’s only a matter of time before disaster strikes, which could result in a polluted water supply or health effects similar to those reported after prolonged exposure to radioactive and toxic waste materials in WWII-era Hiroshima.
Given that the landfill has already spilled or overflowed at least three times, Montana could be in the beginning stages of its own environmental and health disaster.
Ticking Time Bomb
“Robert” and his wife, “Sarah,” live a few miles from Oakland’s property and about 10 miles from the landfill, on a homestead Robert’s family has owned since 1915. They, along with Robert’s sister, “Meghan,” told MintPress they are concerned about the landfill, since they are downwind and downstream from the waste site. They also say the dump was built on top of an aquifer—a claim Oakland denies.
But according to a report from the state of Montana’s Ground-Water Data Task Force, there is some type of an aquifer below most of the state, especially in the eastern portion of the state where Lindsay is located.
The family has raised their concerns about the landfill with various officials, including President Obama and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), as well as local officials. They grow wheat and raise cattle on their land, which contributes to their pollution concerns. As Meghan explained to MintPress, the agencies have all told them the same thing: nothing can be done until a disaster occurs and there’s a “smoking gun” in the form of a massive spill or the water supply is highly contaminated.
“The thing is,” Meghan said, “with this kind of stuff, there is no disaster immediately. Disaster occurs after it is way too late.”
Although the family appears to be the only people in town complaining about the landfill, Robert, Sarah and Meghan said they are fighting to protect the entire town from the toxic materials, since the water in the town leads directly to Deer Creek, then on to Yellowstone, before reaching the Missouri River. And as Sarah pointed out, the creek also runs by at least three schools along the way.
The family told MintPress that they are the only ones in town willing to publicly oppose the landfill because Oakland has paid off some people in town to keep their mouths shut. They claim that the few people in this small town who haven’t been paid off are too afraid of retaliation from Oakland to speak out.
Sources in the community said Oakland has even bought the Dawson County Commissioner’s support, citing a Feb. 16, 2014 article in the Ranger-Review, which reported that Oakland and his wife donated $50,000 to a restroom project at the Dawson County Fairgrounds.
Oakland told the Ranger-Review, a local newspaper, that he was tired of all the negativity surrounding the oilfield, adding that the money he donated for the bathroom project is “oil-generated money,” which he said proves that his landfill is good for the community.
Meghan said one woman shared with her privately in a message on a social media network that she was scared to publicly oppose the landfill because she doesn’t want her business to suffer.
The afflicted family’s main contention about the disposal site is that Oakland insists that the oil industry’s presence in the community will be for everyone’s benefit, but the level of radioactive material in Oakland’s pit is higher than the radioactive material found in Hiroshima, Japan, according to Robert.
MintPress asked Gov. Bullock (D-MT) to comment on the issue, since some residents have expressed concern about the landfill. Bullock’s Deputy Communications Director Mike Wessler told MintPress that the governor is involved in this issue, and he is working closely with the state’s director of environmental quality to ensure that all appropriate steps are taken. But in the end, Wessler recommended we contact the DEQ directly.
The family said this kind of response has been one of the biggest obstacles in their battle to prevent Oakland from continuing to accept toxic and radioactive material in his landfill. They said they are constantly sent from one agency to another, with various officials telling them there is nothing they can do about it because Oakland was issued a license.
But the family is also concerned about how Oakland was issued the license in the first place, as well as the environmental problems associated with the landfill.
While the Montana DEQ maintains that the “Oaks Landfill application has been thoroughly reviewed, approved, and is licensed to operate as a Solid Waste Management System, which is currently in compliance with all applicable laws and rules,” the family says they believe there are several disconcerting facets of Oakland’s landfill approval process.
One such facet is that while the state’s DEQ is required to notify the public about a proposed landfill site and allow 30 days for public comments, the family said the public was notified via a small print ad in the back of the Ranger-Review on Dec. 27, 2012. The public comment period ended on Jan. 21, 2013. In addition, the public comment meetings were held in Helena, MT, which is about seven hours from the disposal site.
The commissioners signed off on the landfill site on Feb. 2, 2013 and gave approval for the oil companies to use the county roads on Feb. 11, 2013, even though Oakland’s license wasn’t issued until Feb. 14, 2013—the same day that the DEQ sent an urgent certified letter to Dr. Joseph Leal, Chief Health Officer of Montana’s Dawson County, to sign off on the landfill.
Sarah knows Dr. Leal. She said she asked him why he agreed to sign off on the creation of such a landfill. She claims he informed her that he didn’t know anything about the landfill or the type of material that would be dumped in the site, and that he was told that if he didn’t sign the document immediately, he would have to go defend himself in court.
When MintPress attempted to contact Leal, his receptionist said he had no interest in commenting.
In an email to MintPress, Chris Saeger—spokesman for the Montana Department of Environmental Quality—said that the state’s “standards for protecting human health and the environment are only defined by laws passed by the legislature and Congress. Based on those laws and our staff’s thorough review of the incident you’ve mentioned, the facility is in compliance with DEQ’s standards.”
Saeger stressed that “our response to public concerns—as detailed above—can only be based on the legal authority we’ve been given by the state legislature.”
What Saeger is referring to is the fact that according to a regulatory determination issued in 1988, oil waste is not considered to be hazardous material for disposal purposes. Based on this, Montana’s DEQ can’t legally investigate the landfill further because under state and federal law the material is not considered to be hazardous. In other words, Oakland’s landfill is treated more as a regular garbage dump than a radioactive waste facility.
Since the family started to push back against the landfill, Robert and Sarah said that trucks hauling the radioactive oil waste have begun to travel on the county road located about 50 feet from their home, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Knowing that the family is opposed to the landfill, Robert and Sarah said the truckers often honk their horns when they pass by their home.
Additional environmental concerns
Because the oil waste is not tarped down, it flies out of the trucks as they make their way to the landfill. Robert said the truckers began to spray magnesium chloride on the roads to keep the dust down. Oakland estimates that he spent about $9,000 to spray this chemical on the roads in 2013, which the Centers for Disease Control say contains poisonous additives that are known to cause organ dysfunction.
In addition to the family’s concerns about the dust and magnesium chloride sprayed on the road outside their home, they say they have recorded at least four spills at the landfill so far. The first allegedly occurred on Sept. 19, 2013 and the most recent on Jan. 19.
When MintPress asked Oakland about the alleged oil spills, he said his landfill site has never overflowed or spilled and that Robert, Sarah and Meghan are “bad people” no one in town listens to. He further claimed that the Montana DEQ has stopped listening to their “unfounded” complaints as well.
When MintPress asked Saeger, of the DEQ, if there was any truth to Oakland’s claims that this particular family’s concerns were unfounded, he said “the owner of Oaks Disposal Service (Oakland) does not speak for the Montana DEQ.” He added that the agency has “undertaken a very thorough inspection of this facility in response to concerns raised by the [affected] family.”
Saeger added that the DEQ has received complaints about two confirmed spills. He explained that one of the complaints was resolved through the landfill owner’s clean-up, while the other confirmed complaint of a spill is in the process of being resolved.
Because a third complaint “contained incomplete information,” Saeger said the DEQ wasn’t able to respond to it. The agency, he said, has not received a complaint about a fourth spill.
Since MintPress spoke to the DEQ, Meghan told MintPress about a fifth spill that occurred around the first week of March 2014.
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By Gwen Ranniger
In the midst of a pandemic, sales of cleaning products have skyrocketed, and many feel a need to clean more often. Knowing what to look for when purchasing cleaning supplies can help prevent unwanted and dangerous toxics from entering your home.
1. Fragrance – Avoid It<p>One of the fastest ways to narrow down your product options is immediately eliminating any product that promotes a fragrance, or parfum. That scent of "fresh breeze" or lemon might initially smell good, but the fragrance does not last. What does last? The concoction of various undisclosed and unregulated chemicals that created that fragrance.</p><p>Many fragrances contain phthalates, which are linked to many health risks including reproductive problems and cancer.</p>
2. With Bleach? Do Without<p>Going scent-free should have narrowed down your options substantially – now, check the front of the remaining packaging. Any that include ammonia or chlorine bleach ought to go, as these substances are irritating and corrosive to your body. While bleach is commonly known as a powerful disinfectant, there are safer alternatives that you can use in your home, such as sodium borate or hydrogen peroxide.</p><p>While you're at it, check if there are any warnings on the label – "flammable," "use in ventilated area," etc. – if the product is hazardous, that's a red flag and should be avoided.</p>
3. Check the Back Label<p>Flip to the back of the remaining contenders and check out that ingredient list. Less is more, here. Opt for a shorter ingredient list with words you recognize and/or can pronounce.</p><p>You may notice many products do not have ingredient lists – while this doesn't necessarily mean they contain toxic ingredients, transparency is key. Feel free to look up a list online, or stick to products that are open about their ingredients.</p>
4. Ingredients to Avoid<p>We already mentioned that cleaners containing fragrance or parfum, and bleach or ammonia should be avoided, but there are other ingredients to look out for as well.</p><ul><li>Quaternary ammonium "quats" – lung irritants that contribute to asthma and other breathing problems. Also linger on surfaces long after they've been cleaned.</li><li>Parabens – Known hormone disruptor; can contribute to ailments such as cancer</li><li>Triclosan – triclosan and other antibacterial chemicals are registered with the EPA as pesticides. Triclosan is a known hormone disruptor and can also impact your immune system.</li><li>Formaldehyde – Causes irritation of eyes, nose, and throat; studies suggest formaldehyde exposure is linked with certain varieties of cancer. Can be found in products or become a byproduct of chemical reactions in the air.</li></ul>
Cleaning Products and Toxics: The Bottom Line<p>Do your research. There are many cleaning products available, but taking these steps will drastically reduce your options and help keep your home toxic-free. Protecting your home from bacteria and viruses is important, but make sure you do so in a way that doesn't introduce other health risks into the home.</p><p><em>Reposted with permission from </em><em><a href="https://www.ehn.org/how-to-shop-for-cleaning-products-while-avoiding-toxics-2648130273.html" target="_blank">Environmental Health News</a>. </em><a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/r/entryeditor/2649054624#/" target="_self"></a></p>
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Twenty-five years ago, a food called Tofurky made its debut on grocery store shelves. Since then, the tofu-based roast has become a beloved part of many vegetarians' holiday feasts.
By Jessica Corbett
A leading environmental advocacy group marked Native American Heritage Month on Wednesday by urging President-elect Joe Biden, Vice President-elect Kamala Kamala Harris, and the entire incoming administration "to honor Indigenous sovereignty and immediately halt the Keystone XL, Dakota Access, and Line 3 pipelines."
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Returning the ‘Three Sisters’ – Corn, Beans and Squash – to Native American Farms Nourishes People, Land and Cultures
By Christina Gish Hill
Historians know that turkey and corn were part of the first Thanksgiving, when Wampanoag peoples shared a harvest meal with the pilgrims of Plymouth plantation in Massachusetts. And traditional Native American farming practices tell us that squash and beans likely were part of that 1621 dinner too.
Abundant Harvests<p>Historically, Native people throughout the Americas bred indigenous plant varieties specific to the growing conditions of their homelands. They selected seeds for many different traits, such as <a href="https://emergencemagazine.org/story/corn-tastes-better/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">flavor, texture and color</a>.</p><p>Native growers knew that planting corn, beans, squash and sunflowers together produced mutual benefits. Corn stalks created a trellis for beans to climb, and beans' twining vines secured the corn in high winds. They also certainly observed that corn and bean plants growing together tended to be healthier than when raised separately. Today we know the reason: Bacteria living on bean plant roots pull nitrogen – an essential plant nutrient – from the air and <a href="http://www.tilthalliance.org/learn/resources-1/almanac/october/octobermngg" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">convert it to a form that both beans and corn can use</a>.</p><p>Squash plants contributed by shading the ground with their broad leaves, preventing weeds from growing and retaining water in the soil. Heritage squash varieties also had spines that discouraged deer and raccoons from visiting the garden for a snack. And sunflowers planted around the edges of the garden created a natural fence, protecting other plants from wind and animals and attracting pollinators.</p><p>Interplanting these agricultural sisters produced bountiful harvests that sustained large Native communities and <a href="http://dx.doi.org/10.1353/eam.2015.0016" target="_blank">spurred fruitful trade economies</a>. The first Europeans who reached the Americas were shocked at the abundant food crops they found. My research is exploring how, 200 years ago, Native American agriculturalists around the Great Lakes and along the Missouri and Red rivers fed fur traders with their diverse vegetable products.</p>
Displaced From the Land<p>As Euro-Americans settled permanently on the most fertile North American lands and acquired seeds that Native growers had carefully bred, they imposed policies that <a href="https://doi.org/10.1086/ahr/87.2.550" target="_blank">made Native farming practices impossible</a>. In 1830 President Andrew Jackson signed the <a href="https://guides.loc.gov/indian-removal-act" target="_blank">Indian Removal Act</a>, which made it official U.S. policy to force Native peoples from their home locations, pushing them onto subpar lands.</p><p>On reservations, U.S. government officials discouraged Native women from cultivating anything larger than small garden plots and pressured Native men to practice Euro-American style monoculture. Allotment policies assigned small plots to nuclear families, further limiting Native Americans' access to land and preventing them from using communal farming practices.</p><p>Native children were forced to attend boarding schools, where they had no opportunity to <a href="https://doi.org/10.5749/jamerindieduc.57.1.0145" target="_blank">learn Native agriculture techniques or preservation and preparation of Indigenous foods</a>. Instead they were forced to eat Western foods, turning their palates away from their traditional preferences. Taken together, these policies <a href="https://kansaspress.ku.edu/978-0-7006-0802-7.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">almost entirely eradicated three sisters agriculture</a> from Native communities in the Midwest by the 1930s.</p>
Reviving Native Agriculture<p>Today Native people all over the U.S. are working diligently to <a href="https://www.oupress.com/books/15107980/indigenous-food-sovereignty-in-the-united-sta" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">reclaim Indigenous varieties of corn, beans, squash, sunflowers and other crops</a>. This effort is important for many reasons.</p><p>Improving Native people's access to healthy, culturally appropriate foods will help lower rates of <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/vitalsigns/aian-diabetes/index.html" target="_blank">diabetes</a> and <a href="https://www.apa.org/pi/oema/resources/ethnicity-health/native-american/obesity" target="_blank">obesity</a>, which affect Native Americans at disproportionately high rates. Sharing traditional knowledge about agriculture is a way for elders to pass cultural information along to younger generations. Indigenous growing techniques also protect the lands that Native nations now inhabit, and can potentially benefit the wider ecosystems around them.</p>
By Jake Johnson
Amid reports that oil industry-friendly former Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz remains under consideration to return to his old post in the incoming Biden administration, a diverse coalition of environmental groups is mobilizing for an "all-out push" to keep Moniz away from the White House and demand a cabinet willing to boldly confront the corporations responsible for the climate emergency.