DENVER — Some types of low-level radioactive waste have been illegally buried in landfills that are not approved to handle them because of a contradiction in state laws, Colorado health officials said Friday.

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment said the Legislature needs to change the laws so the agency has the authority to regulate the waste.

The problem was first reported by The Denver Post (http://dpo.st/2xtIiwR).

The agency said it did not know how much of the waste is involved but does not believe it is an imminent threat to public health.

The waste is material that is naturally radioactive and has been used or disturbed by an industrial or manufacturing process, the agency said. It is known as technically enhanced naturally occurring radioactive material. The radioactivity is usually an unwanted component of the material, said Martha Rudolph, director of environmental programs for the health department.

State law prevents the health department from regulating that kind of waste unless the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency does, and the EPA has not set any rules, Rudolph said. Another state law, however, requires any radioactive material to be buried in landfills with extra precautions including liners and other protective barriers, she said.

Without the legal authority, the department cannot set rules to enforce that law, she said. As a result, some of that type of waste is going into regular landfills that do not have the extra precautions.

Colorado has two landfills that are approved to accept the waste routinely, and a third landfill is expected to open in November.

The health department has no plans to take action against anyone, but it wants to clear up the uncertainty around regulation, Rudolph said. The department has been asking landfill operators, industries and local governments if they would support a change in the law.

Oil and gas are among the industries producing the kind of waste at the center of the uncertainty, Rudolph said.

The Colorado Oil and Gas Association, an industry group, said in a written a statement there are no indications that disposal of the waste in landfills is a problem in Colorado. “We have spoken with the state, with members of the waste industry and others to begin exploring the realities of this matter,” the statement said.


Information from: The Denver Post, http://www.denverpost.com