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April 08, 1994 - Image 3

Resource type:
The Michigan Daily, 1994-04-08

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The Michigan Daily - Friday, April 8, 1994 - 3

The University maintains the sites
are legal, but the state DNR
wants them licensed

n an innocuous-looking pale blue and
brick building behind a chain-link
fence on a corner of North Campus,
the University is operating an illegal radioac-
tive waste dump, state regulators claim.
The Michigan Department of Natural Re-
sources (MDNR) says the University's facili-
ties are illegal because they are not properly
licensed by the state. But University officials
say they have a license from the Nuclear
Regulatory Commission that should be good
The matter will be settled in Washtenaw
County Court where the University is suing
the state in a two-year-old attempt to sort out
this legal mess of overlapping state and fed-
eral laws. The suit will determine whether the
University and other producers of low-level
radioactive waste fall within the state's juris-
"The lawsuit involves questions of juris-
diction and procedure," explained Sally
Pobojewski of the University's News and
Information Services. "There's no question
of public safety."
The University is one of a number of
organizations in this tug-of-war between state
and federal regulators.
The University's trouble with the state
began in August 1991 when MDNR alleged
the University violated state and federal re-
quirements for temporary storage of mixed
wastes at its storage facilities on Beck Road
near Willow Run Airport and at the 1077 site
in the North University Building.
The wastes in question are generated at the
University by medical diagnoses and treat-
ments. These materials are also used in re-
search into the causes and cures of cancer,
AIDS and Alzheimer's disease, and current
environmental problems.
University researchers are trained in safety
procedures before they can order radioactive
materials. When the researchers complete an
experiment, they must separate radioactive
solids, liquids and animal tissues and place
them in temporary storage containers for
pickup by Radiation Control Services staff
Animal tissues must be frozen and kept
separate from other waste products. Liquids
are placed in special 4-liter jugs, and other
waste is placed in a solid drum, except for
soiled vials, which are placed in trays for
The low-level radioactive and mixed
wastes are then taken to the North Campus
Transfer Facility for processing. The waste is

pH tested and placed in 55-gallon drums,
which contain the same type of radioactive
isotopes. The drum is labeled, filled and
brought to the Beck Road Facility, near Wil-
low Run Airport, to be temporarily stored
until the waste is no longer radioactive.
This site is safe, said Ann Arbor Fire
Department (AAFD) Assistant Chief Michael
Jackson. In 27 years, there has not been one
alarm the AAFD had to answer.
The University encourages its researchers
to use radioactive isotopes with half-lives of
less than 90 days. A half-life is the amount of
time required for half of a radioactive sub-
stance to decay.
After the isotope has decayed to accept-
able levels, the drum is returned to the North
Campus Transfer Facility and prepared for
shipment off campus as a hazardous waste.
The University is one of almost 60 facili-
ties statewide that have been storing their
low-level radioactive and mixed wastes on
site since a 1991 decision by the state of
Michigan. The University has filed suit against
the state to prove that the state has no business
regulating the storage of the mixed wastes
produced by these universities, hospitals, busi-
nesses and nuclear power plants.
In 1991, the state decided that low-level
radioactive waste producers must store their
wastes where they are produced because the
state does not have a low-level radioactive
storage site nor does it have a responsibility to
site a facility due to entanglements with a
regional waste disposal organization.
This decision has had financial implica-
tions for the University. Before the 1991
decision, the University paid about $100,000
per year for the transportation and disposal of
radioactive wastes. Now, the tab is more than
twice that amount.
The state regulates mixed waste, which
includes radioactive waste. Radioactive waste
is already regulated by the Nuclear Regula-
tory Commission.
Kenneth Burda, chief of the state's Haz-
ardous Waste Program, complained about this
dual regulation. "It's dealt with by both stat-
utes, which, in my perspective, is stupid.
"The problem with this stuff is that they
are storing their stuff in places that aren't
The University and other sites are not

buying permits from the MNDR for storing
mixed waste. An organization may pay $1
million for a construction and operations per-
"No one is doing that," Burda said.
Michigan State University is an exception
to this pattern. "MSU stores mixed waste but
they've always had a permit," Burda said.
Thor Strong, associate commissioner of
the Low-Level Radioactive Waste Authority,
said all generators of waste in the state are in
a bind.
"I know that the University probably has
the biggest task of all of them in terms of the
number of users of radioactive waste on cam-
pus," Strong said.
MDNR alleged in August 1991 that the
University violated mixed waste storage re-
quirements for the 1077 and Beck Road sites.
The 1077 site was then used to prepare
waste for shipment off campus. The opera-
tions of the 1077 site have since been trans-
ferred to the more modern facility on North
MDNR unsuccessfully sought to fine the
University $500,000 for operating mixed-
waste storage facilities without a state permit
and to halt the University's temporary storage
of mixed waste, which would stop some of the
University's research efforts.
In response to the allegations, the
University's Radiation Safety Service office
sent a memo to radioactive material users
alerting them of an MDNR investigation and
an internal investigation of waste storage and
removal procedures.
The memo also reminded the researchers
about proper protocol for waste removal. The
memo warns that mixing radioactive waste
and hazardous waste for disposal is unaccept-
able and prohibited. Hazardous wastes burn
easily, dissolve metals, release toxic gases or
contain high concentrations of heavy metals.
On Aug. 15, 1991, the University col-
lected and analyzed samples from nine drums
of mixed waste then in storage at the Beck
Road facility. The drums tested were found to
contain federally regulated chemical waste
constituents above regulatory limits.
The University states in the lawsuit that
the facilities had been inspected by the NRC,
the Environmental Protection Agency and the
Michigan Department of Public Health. The


agencies determined that the University had a
"well run, effective radiation safety program."
The University filed suit against MDNR
and other state agencies in July 1992 claiming
that MDNR does not have jurisdiction over
nuclear by-product materials - including
mixed waste. The University asked the court
to force the Michigan Department of Public
Health to find a site and build a low-level
radioactive waste disposal site.
Finding a site is easier said than done. The
story of Michigan's trouble finding a site for
the disposal of low-level radioactive waste
began in July 1987 when the state was se-
lected as the first host state for a disposal
facility by the Midwest Interstate Low-Level
Radioactive Waste Commission.
A state act created the Michigan Low-
Level Radioactive Waste Authority to select
the site and develop the facility. The authority
named three possible sites. Two were dropped
in April 1990 because of nearby wetlands.
The third was dropped the following month
because of nearby wetlands, ground water
discharge zones and pipelines.
The commission could not afford to fund
the authority's investigation of 78 other po-
tentially suitable sites. The authority and the
Michigan Legislature could not accept partial
funding for the investigation.
The commission voted in July 1991 to
revoke Michigan's membership. Michigan
and Ohio opposed the decision. Michigan's
acting commissioner, Dennis L. Schornack,
said Michigan would continue to look for a
site if the commission would allow the state to
conduct the commission's search under state

1992, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled with New
York in declaring this law unconstitutional.
Strong, of the Michigan Low-Level Ra-
dioactive Waste Authority, said, "We con-
tinue as in the past to have reservations about
the way the federal law is being applied."
The states still have responsibility for cre-
ating waste disposal sites through regional
organizations like the Midwest Interstate Low-
Level Radioactive Waste Compact. Strong
said, "However, there is nothing that abso-
lutely mandates the state to build those facili-
He said about 12 areas are currently being
investigated as possible national waste sites.
This is far more than the country needs, Strong




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