The movement to ban toxic, radioactive drilling waste has spread to communities across the state. But that grassroots momentum wasn’t enough to pass a statewide bill to ban the import of fracking waste, as the state legislative session ended this month without passing HB 6329.
That’s the bad news. The good news is that local bans on drilling waste are continuing to pass. The same night the state Senate failed to take action, residents in Pomfret passed an ordinance to protect their community by a vote of 120 to 2. And residents in another town showed up en masse, and their Board of Selectmen voted to send their waste ban ordinance to town vote later this month.
When it comes to inaction at the state capitol, we have been here before. This is the third time in five years that state legislators decided not to take action banning toxic, radioactive fracking waste. This time around, a ban bill easily passed the House, but the Senate failed to bring it up for a vote.
While there were problems with HB 6329, it came at a crucial moment. Current state law requires that regulations be submitted as early as this summer (July 1), and no later than July 1, 2018. This means that in the coming months, the Department of Energy & Environmental and Protection (DEEP) will submit rules for handling this waste in Connecticut. Twelve legislators on the Regulations Review Committee can then ask for edits and second drafts, but they do not have the power to say, "No, we don't want fracking waste sent to treatment facilities or re-used in fill products that could contaminate towns across the state." There are many questions about whether these facilities can adequately treat the waste, or if fill used for construction projects can be properly tested for all chemicals and radioactivity.
Radium 226 is common to fracking wastes, has a radioactive half-life of 1,600 years, is known to cause breast, bone and liver cancers, and is associated with adult and childhood leukemia. If the state crafts future regulations allowing these hazards, contaminated waste would be moved around by thousands of tanker trucks and dump trucks on roadways across the state—raising the real risk of spills and accidents en route to treatment plants. Chemical and radioactive contamination has already spread in other states due to accidents, leaks, leaching into groundwater, and discharge into surface waters after treatment efforts.
It goes without saying that the Senate missed a huge opportunity to ban fracking waste once and for all. Voters know that toxic, radioactive fracking waste poses huge risks to their health, property values and clean water. That’s why we have seen residents in 19 towns rise up and pass local ordinances, with many more considering similar bans. It is disappointing that our state government failed to follow the lead of local governments across the state, but the grassroots movement is stronger than ever, and we're going to keep fighting until we ban fracking waste statewide.
Jennifer Siskind is a Food & Water Watch Local Coordinator in Connecticut.