Friday, January 30, 2009

Nuke Fears Close Dump

Posted By on Fri, Jan 30, 2009 at 3:53 PM

Concerned about the potential of radioactive waste leeching into Humboldt Bay, county government has temporarily shut down the old Table Bluff Landfill outside of Loleta, the Journal has learned.

Table Bluff landfill was open to the public between the late 1960s and late 1970s. Since closing, the county has continued to use it as a space to dump "road spoils," or dirt that washes onto county roads during floods.

The close-down, which happened a couple of weeks ago, was taken out of an abundance of caution, said Humboldt County Environmental Services Director Hank Seeman. There is no evidence that the site is contaminated with radioactive material, Seeman said -- however, there's no way to be sure that it isn't.

Seeman said that the issue came up a couple of months ago, when the Sheriff's Office considered using the location for bomb squad training. When the proposal arose, county personnel started to do some standard-issue assessment about the risks of planting people at a dump site for extended periods of time. That's when someone noted that the dump was located in the vicinity of PG & E's old Humboldt Bay Nucleaer Power Plant and the naval training facility at Centerville Beach, both of which have housed nuclear materials.

"Given the uncertainty about waste management activities at that point [in time], it's conceivable that some radioactive material made it into Table Bluff Landfill," said Humboldt County Environmental Services Director Hank Seeman yesterday. "And we realized that we didn't have any info on residual radioactivity that might be coming out of that landfill."

The county, in consultation with the California Integrated Waste Management Board, decided to shutter the facility until such time as specialized tests can be performed. A crew from the Waste Management Board is scheduled to test the site at the end of February, Seeman said.

PG&E certainly operated in a loosey-goosey manner back in the day, and it wouldn't at all be surprising to find that nasty materials made their way out of the power plant and into the landfill. For more, see last year's cover story "The Not-So-Peaceful Atom" (Mar. 20), in which one of the plant's first employees recalls what happened when he blew the whistle on hazardous practices there.

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