Importation of Radioactive Sand

Sand that was polluted with depleted uranium from a fire that happened on a U.S. military base in Kuwait, is being transported all the way to a disposal facility in Idaho…… The only good news is that it appears that Kuwait is paying the bill for it.

Although this story is about a month old, I had never heard of it, and I know it wasn’t on my “evening news” so I thought to bring it to light here for others to see.

radioactive sign

American Ecology gets the contract to dispose of material tainted in a fire at a U.S. military base.

Nearly 80 rail cars loaded with contaminated sand from Kuwait are headed toward a dump in southwestern Idaho.

American Ecology Corp. is shipping about 6,700 tons of sand containing traces of depleted uranium and lead to a hazardous waste disposal site 70 miles southeast of Boise. The sand arrived by ship at Longview, Wash., this week and company officials say loads are scheduled to begin arriving in Idaho by rail in two weeks.

Transfer of the sand to the United States was first reported this week by The Daily News in Longview.

The company has previously disposed of low-level radioactive waste and hazardous materials from U.S. military bases overseas at facilities in Idaho, Nevada and Texas, said American Ecology spokesman Chad Hyslop, who is based in Boise.

“As you can imagine, the host countries of those bases don’t want the waste in their country,” Hyslop said.

Neither do leaders of the Snake River Alliance, a nuclear watchdog group, who have vowed to monitor the site.

“Depleted uranium is both a toxic metal and a radioactive substance,” said Andrea Shipley, the group’s executive director. “That is a concern.”

The sand coming to Idaho from Camp Doha, a U.S. Army Base in Kuwait, was contaminated with uranium after military vehicles and munitions caught fire during the first Persian Gulf War in 1991.

Depleted uranium, twice as dense as lead, has been used as a component in armor plating to protect tanks and for armor-piercing projectiles.

The Kuwait Ministry of Defense contracted MKM Engineers Inc. of Stafford, Texas, to package the waste and transport it to the United States. MKM then subcontracted with American Ecology for disposal, Hyslop said.

Hyslop would not disclose the value of the contract.

American Ecology operates the only commercial hazardous waste disposal site in Idaho on 1,100 acres of land in the Owyhee desert. Disposal operations cover 100 acres in the middle of the property, Hyslop said, and about a third of the material disposed at the Idaho site is from the U.S. military.

The company disposed of uranium-contaminated Bradley fighting vehicles there in 2006.

All the sand from Kuwait should be in Idaho within 40 days, Hyslop said. Radiation from the uranium in the sand has been measured at about 10 picocuries per gram. The Idaho facility is permitted to accept material with more than 16 times that level, or 169 picocuries per gram.

In a letter to Army officials on Sept. 13, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission deemed the radiation levels “unimportant quantities” and approved the plan to dispose the sand in Idaho.

“We’ve received tens of thousands of tons from the U.S. military that has higher radioactive levels than this shipment,” Hyslop said.

Idaho Department of Environmental Quality Director Brian Monson said the company is permitted to receive the material and contacted his office three months ago.

“They always give us an alert if it’s something out of the ordinary,” Monson said.

The company notified Monson again this week when military officials tested the sand and found traces of lead.

“It was only until the last hour we realized we might be dealing with a hazardous material,” Monson said.

The company has said the sand will be tested and treated if needed before it is buried in the dump.

Some samples of the sand registered lead levels of 19 parts per million, Hyslop said. He characterized that measurement as “extremely low,” but Environmental Protection Agency standards classify anything over five parts per million as hazardous waste.

EPA officials say they’re not alarmed by the presence of lead because that is one of the materials American Ecology is permitted to handle in Idaho.

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