MAXEY FLATS -- Employees eager to answer questions and hoping to alleviate fears about the former radioactive material disposal site greeted visitors to Maxey Flats Wednesday.
Except for the ominous history of the site, as one of the first superfund sites of potential toxic waste dumping to be identified and shut down in 1977, the site is almost unnoticed from the ground. Farms and home sites dot Maxey Flats Road on the way to the site driveway.
Buildings which were on the property, purchased as a buffer zone, have been demolished, officials said.
There is nothing to fear about radiation at the site beyond what occurs naturally elsewhere, guides said.
Stigma is hard to shake.
The name, Maxey Flats has became synonymous with a need to develop a master plan for disposal of radioactive waste, which continues to aggravate officials.
"Anything back then was called low level radioactive, that was not nuclear weapon waste. There is stuff in there from everywhere," the guide said. "There are only four sites in the nation accepting radioactive waste at this time."
As part of its biennial open house, employees took visitors through demonstrations of testing procedures and a history of the site from its inception in the 1960s, to closure in 1978 and capping with a plastic geomembrane which will eventually be covered with soil, officials said.
A hope is to have the final cap in place soon and create a 200 acre area covered with native grasses, officials said.
MFP officials are working with Kentucky agencies to get the earth in place before the geomembrane needs to be replaced, which would cost millions of dollars if officials wait too long, officials said.
The area of the original dump site is approximately 60 acres of the 800 plus acre site. Though nearly a million gallons of solidified waste is contained in earth mounded concrete bunkers, more than 550 acres were purchased surrounding the site in order to create a buffer zone for any possible seepage.
There is occasionally seepage of ground water from the dump to the buffer zone, but by the time it gets off the property there is no trace of radioactive material, MFP Technician Tom Stewart said.
Testing equipment operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week with multiple sampling of the grounds beneath the geomembrane for abnormal water levels. Employees also have daily tasks of inspecting the membrane for damage or wear.
Coyotes like to gnaw on the membrane, the guide said, as he showed visitors a photo of typical animal damage.
Animal life thrives on the site, in part because it is illegal to hunt there deer, turkeys, even grouse are numerous on the site, he said.
Once the geomembrane receives a permanent earthen cap there will be another century of monitoring, said Stewart as he demonstrated how common items contain some level of radioactivity, but not necessarily dangerous levels of alpha radiation.
Items containing uranium, like Fiesta dishes from before World War II, and household items like lantern wicks and smoke detectors with other types of radioactive materials, were subjected to a detector which clicked a number of times based on how intense the reading was.
"The best way to alleviate fear is education about what really is dangerous, versus the perception of all radiation sources being bad," Stewart said.
During the open house, several groups took the tour; educational materials for children were also available.
Learning will continue on Oct. 9 when there will be a mock disaster at the site to enable emergency responders to practice disaster tactics, officials said.
For information on MFP go to www.waste.ky.gov/SFB/Pages/MaxeyFlatsProject.aspx.
Contact Wendy Mitchell at email@example.com or call 606-564-9091, ext. 276.
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