February 27, 2013

Filter socks are unwanted garbage

By Kate Ruggles
Farmer Staff Writer

While most McKenzie County residents may not know what a filter sock is or why it may or may not affect them, they do need to know that the improper disposal of them not only constitutes illegal dumping, but it has potential impacts to the individual who is dumping it as well as the environment around them.
A filter sock is used to filter various types of oilfield fluids, some of which have the potential to be radioactive.
“We are not dealing with something the oil industry has put into the ground, but because of the radioactive nature of the materials and the energy produced by them, they must be disposed of properly,” states Kurt Rhea, CEO of Next Generation Solutions.
According to Rhea, the radioactive materials in question are naturally occurring materials that have been unearthed in the oil production process. And when those materials are pulled from the ground, they contain high amounts of energy and they look for something to attach to.
It is, in fact, this nature that necessitates these potentially radioactive materials be handled with great care and disposed of safely and properly, which is why there are specially designated radioactive disposal facilities.
“There are only a few  places that have a facility designated to take radioactive materials, and North Dakota is not one of them,” states Rhea.
Because there are no specially designated radioactive disposal sites in North Dakota and because the state of North Dakota restricts the disposing of potentially radioactive materials anywhere in the state, the City of Watford City has requested all disposing of filter socks in city garbage dumpsters be stopped.
“I don’t know why we are having a problem,” states Watford City Superintendent of Public Works Justin Smith. “I don’t know if people don’t know how to dispose of them, or if they do and just don’t care.”
Either way, according to Smith, there have been a few recent incidents of them appearing in city garbage dumpsters, and that is simply unacceptable.
“When these socks are discovered at the landfills, the city receives a $1,000 fine, because they are potentially radioactive and cannot be disposed of in sanitary landfills per the North Dakota Department of Health,” states Smith.
All area sanitary landfills have a zero tolerance on any filter sock dumping as a preventative measure and all filter socks found in area landfills must be taken back to town and disposed of with an approved radioactive waste disposal company, like Next Generation Solutions.
Rhea states that using a company that has a radioactive materials license is the best way to safely handle radioactive materials.
“A company that has a radioactive materials license has radiation safety plans, and knows how to protect the employees who are handling the materials as well as protect the environment and the community,” states Rhea.
According to Smith, Watford City has had three cases of filter socks being found in garbage dumpsters. And in two of the cases, the source was linked to the garbage receptacle of an oilfield employee.
“The city’s most recent incident involved the dumping of four filter socks, which weren’t discovered until the landfill was spreading the garbage,” states Smith. “The sanitation crew suspects the source was a dumpster in the downtown area of Watford City. And because the socks were found at the landfill, the city received a fine for them.”
Smith’s concern with this issue is not just the personal and environmental safety of McKenzie County and its residents, but the fact that when filter socks are found in Watford City receptacles, the responsibility falls back on the city.
“If someone randomly dumps garbage, and the city gets fined for it, we don’t have anyone to go back on,” states Smith. “Then the city has to pay for it, and ultimately everyone winds up paying for it.”
Smith is asking that all city garbage customers watch for and report any unauthorized dumping. He is also asking anyone that may be illegally dumping these filters to please dispose of them properly.
Smith states that if any Watford City sanitation crew finds filter socks in city garbage receptacles, they will not collect garbage from that site until the filter sock is removed.
Smith urges anyone to contact the city at 444-5233 if they are unsure of how to dispose of filter socks. The North Dakota Department of Health website also lists approved radioactive waste disposal companies. They can be found at www.ndhealth.gov/wm/Publications/OilfieldWasteManagementFacilities.pdf.