It covers nearly one-third of an acre just north of Bill Snyder Family Stadium and can be seen from the parking lot. For years members of the purple nation tailgated next to the fenced-off area, most of them probably oblivious to what it was or assumed it was part of the agronomy farm.
Little did they know they were tailgating next to a state-approved chemical landfill for low-level radioactive and other hazardous wastes.
“There was no danger to anyone and we wouldn’t have allowed tailgating if there was even any potential danger,”said Kelly Greene, K-State’s environmental manager. “We’ve always had the site fenced off. We wear radiation badges and the badges stay out overnight … and nothing has ever showed up on the badges.”
The Old Chemical Waste Landfill was created in the 1960s as a state approved burial ground for low-level radioactive wastes left over from experiments and projects conducted by the university.
“As landfills go it’s a pretty small potato size-wise and quantity-wise,” said Steve Galitzer, director of public safety.
Both Galizter and Greene said it was very common practice for major universities to have landfills like K-State’s; the University of Kansas and the University of Nebraska both have landfills, as do many across the U.S.
Low level radioactive wastes, chemicals from laboratories, wastes from agronomy farms and animal carcasses from research experiments were among the most common items for burial in the landfill until regulations changed and burial was stopped in 1987.
A 50-by-50 foot building was constructed on top of the landfill site to cap the landfill and prevent water from moving contaminates away from the site.
Chemical and radioactive wastes were stored there for no more than 90 days before being removed by PSC Environmental, a waste removal contractor. Although most of it is incinerated, some things like mercury are recycled.
“We don’t put anything back in the landfill because that could come back to get us later,” Greene said.
Recently the building on the facility was taken down in order to begin removing the contents of the landfill.
“You could let it stay there and eventually all the chemicals would break down and would go away, but that would take an extremely long period of time,” Greene said. “We have to monitor this. We’ve been monitoring this since the ‘90s and that costs money. The best thing to do, the least expensive way is to just get rid of it.”
Removal began on Feb. 1, and Greene said they expect it to take at least 45 days. Removal of the landfill will cover the whole one-third acre and will go at least 20 feet below the surface. She said the division of public safety anticipates that nearly 7,000 cubic yards – or 1,890 tons – of earth will be removed from the landfill.
The contents of the landfill will be placed into containers and shipped to Utah for disposal. Any intact chemical containers will be handled through the K-State’s hazardous waste contractor. From there samplings will take place to determine if all hazardous materials have been removed.
Greene said wastes collected for storage are now being housed in a smaller building on the same site as well as in the King Annex, which is designed to house hazardous materials. As a result the wastes collected are now shipped out more frequently, stored for only 40-45 days before being collected by the contractor.
According to Greene, there are future plans to construct another building to house the hazardous materials once everything has been cleared. She also said the removal of the landfill was the best thing to do in the long term.
While the landfill was used to store low-level radioactive wastes, Galizter said none of its contents come from the nuclear reactor facility on campus.
“We don’t get their waste because nuclear reactor falls under federal laws whereas the low-level radioactive waste that we generate on campus falls under our campus license which are two separate things,” Galizter said.
Jeffrey Geuther, nuclear reactor facility manager, said there are two types of radioactive waste that comes from their facility: high-level wastes, such as spent fuel rods, and low-level wastes like rubber gloves that they handled samples with, paper towels, etc.
Low-level wastes generated at the nuclear reactor facility are stored on site until they have decayed down enough to be removed.
“We really don’t make all that much high-level waste here,” Geuther said. “Considering the amount of spent fuel we do generate, we could store, say, 20-years worth on site before we would have to have it taken away.”
Geuther said removal of spent fuel rods would be handled by the Department of Energy, not by K-State.
“There’s really very little risk that radioactive material would get out without our knowledge,” he said. “It’s an access controlled facility and the key to the room holding the low-level waste is controlled more tightly than access to the facility in general.”