Illegal Oil Waste Disposal in Rural North Dakota - KXNet.com - Bismarck/Minot/Williston/Dickinson-KXNEWS,ND

Illegal Oil Waste Disposal in Rural North Dakota

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The town of Noonan North Dakota has made it on the map, for all the wrong reasons.

News of the largest illegal dumping of radioactive oil waste in the state has spread across the country and beyond.

Many residents had never heard of oil filter socks until a pile of them was found in an abandoned building in Noonan this March.

The socks are the nets that strain liquids in the oil production process and catch waste that can be radioactive.

It's illegal to dispose of them in North Dakota but it's not the first time the rural area has been dumped on.

"Who wants garbage put in their yard?"

Welcome to Divide County in oil country.

Along with truck traffic along Highway 40 you can almost see Canada from here, but an old rundown building in the small town of Noonan has been making news across the country and the border.

It's holding the largest illegal dumping of radioactive waste ever found in the state.

"If you say it's radioactive, most people don't want to get near it..." laughs Lauren Throntveit, Divide County Sheriff.

Investigators say they know who the owner of the abandoned building is and that it does not pose a danger the public.

"We learned what the levels of gamma radiation were so..." says Jody Gunlock, County Emergency Manager.

They found some receipts and believe the oil filter socks were actually dumped here back in 2011.

"I'm sure it would concern anybody, but I think the biggest problem is if it starts on fire." says Throntveit.

Since being discovered, the mess hasn't moved.

And it's given Noonan a bad name.

"We'd like to be known for something other than a radioactive dump site... That's not the first thing that you want associated with your hometown." says Gunlock, County Emergency Manager.

Jody Gunlock graduated from Noonan High school.

After moving away for 32 years, he moved back and now serves as the County Emergency Manager and 911 Coordinator.

After receiving an anonymous tip, he was the one who initially found around 200 bags of the radioactive materials.

"Some of them are in bags, some of them are not, you can just look right in the window, it's like yep, there's socks here." says Gunlock.

The dilapidated building is so much more than an eyesore.

It's just one view of illegal shortcuts that are being taken across the entire oil industry.

"I would say it is hands down the worst, but we got a lot of other problems out there." says Gunlock.

"I wasn't the one who found it, but nothing surprises me, this is just the tip of the iceberg of what goes on as far as what people will do to make money and to save money." says Lauren.

Both the sheriff and the county emergency manager say they are swamped with calls of illegal saltwater disposal and even sewage disposal out in the rural areas.

They say the county simply does not have enough deputies or resources to patrol it.

Authorities say the owner of the building has made statements that have implicated him with disposing of the materials.

He has not been found or charged with anything at this time.

State Health Department officials say they are working on getting the oil filter socks out of the Noonan area as soon as possible.

They have said they are still looking for the landowner to step up and take care of the waste, but the more likely option is to pay for the cleanup from the Remediation Fund from the Oil and Gas Division.

Dave Glatt with the state Health Department says they want to make sure the mess is disposed of appropriately, but they do not want the public to be concerned that it has not been taken care of yet.

"Where it's at now, it's not a threat to the public, it's in a building, a lot of this material, you could stand in that room for a whole year and not have anything more than you'd get an x-ray at your dental office." says Dave Glatt, Environmental Health Section, Department of Health.

Glatt says North Dakota has the most conservative standard for this kind of disposal in the nation.

A contractor could transport the pile to Montana, Colorado or Idaho, depending on the concentration of radiation and each state's requirements.

Glatt says they also are studying what the risk to the public would be to allow some landfills in North Dakota to take in the waste.

They are waiting for a risk assessment currently from Argonne National Laboratories.

They're hoping to have the final report done in August or September.

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