Maxey Flats

Essay by PaperNerd ContributorCollege, Undergraduate July 2001

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The traditional method of disposing of waste is to dump the waste into landfills. Landfills are huge bathtubs for garbage, where deposited wastes are compacted, spread into thin layers, and covered with clay. The modern landfills are lined with multiple layers of clay, sand and plastic before garbage is dumped into them (Basics of Landfills). These protective liners are suppose to prevent liquids from percolating into the ground waters. The problem is that until 1970 there were no regulations governing the construction of landfills. As a result of the lack of legislation, 85 percent of all landfills are unlined (Miller). Many of the old landfills are leaking toxins into our water supply. At some of these sights, drinking water is the focus of site investigations. Storm water running off into rivers is a major concern for the people in the neighborhoods of nuclear landfills.

The United States has operated six low level radioactive landfills over the past four decades.

Out of those six, Maxey Flats is one of three to be closed due to leakage and contamination problems. Maxey Flats opened in 1963 as one of the country's first nuclear disposal sites (Main). This 280-acre landfill had around 4.75 million cubic feet of radioactive waste buried in its depressions. In 1972 petitions started circulating to have Maxey Flats closed after suspicion of the nuclear dump leaking toxins into the Licking River (Quillen). The state denied any knowledge of these accusations. Michelle Combs, a local resident, states that it is a travesty that the government can undermine the intelligence of the residents. The state eventually closed Maxey Flats in 1977 after tests showed that radioactive water was escaping from its trenches: "even the best liner and leachate collection system will ultimately fail due to natural deterioration" (US EPA).

Located on one of the highest elevations in Flemingsburg, Maxey Flats receives around 50-70 inches of rain a year. The storm water resulting from Maxey Flats sheds into Sharky creek and feeds into Bruck 2 the Licking River. According to the Division of Waste Managements, there are many sites in the Licking River region that are contaminated due to the presence of landfills closed before July 1992. Between 1973 and 1986, the state pumped approximately 6 million gallons of wastewater from this dump. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency them removed the water and reburied it. It is scary to think that our water contains radioactive materials. The river has several importances including a drinking water source and as a wildlife habitat. Bacteria in the water have an effect on sewage pipes, which means that these will need to be upgraded.

In 1977 when Maxey Flats closed, there was no superfund waste fund, so it just became another nuclear waste site without the proper cleaning. However, in 1986, Maxey Flats was placed on the federal superfund list. Maxey Flats is the largest superfund site in the Southeast (Main). In the state's attempt to clean up this site, six federal agencies and 43 companies will pay to remove the remaining gallons of water from the landfill and install caps to prevent more water from accumulating. The state is also acquiring adjacent properties to create a buffer zone for this site. The estimated cost of this clean up project is $60 million dollars. It will take 200 years to complete this clean up.

The concern and willingness to clean up the hazardous materials from our environment is greatly appreciative; however, a little too late. In August of 1995 six workers at the Maxey Flats nuclear dump became ill after inhaling fumes. (Fisher). Obviously these toxins are still present in the dump, so how does this affect the health of the people in surrounding areas? There is a growing awareness of the need to improve the environment and become less dependant on landfills. We must find ways to reduce waste without putting future generations in danger.

Bruck 3 Works Cited Basics of Landfills. July 10, 2001. .

Combs, Michelle. Personal Interview. July 11, 2001.

Fisher, John. "State wants answers on toxic dump." The Kentucky Post. August 30, 1995.

Main, Frank and Dan Hassert. "Maxey Flats:The end settlement reached to clean up nuclear dump site." The Kentucky Post. July 6, 1995.

Miller, G. Tyler, Jr. Living in the Environment. Belmont CA: Wadsworth, 1994.

Quillen, Mike. Personal Interview. July 10, 2001.

US EPA Federal Register. Vol. 53, No. 168. August 30, 1988. July 11, 2001.