EPA works to cover thousands of tons of radioactive materials found in Broken Arrow with clay

BROKEN ARROW, Okla. — The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is working to cover thousands of tons of radioactive material found in Broken Arrow.

The site sits off Kenosha Street east of the Tractor Supply.

Passersby can see a barbed wire fence has been put up around the area to keep people out. FOX23 explored the area earlier Tuesday, and the EPA was on the scene to cover thousands of tons of radioactive materials with clay.

Keith Deaver is the Timberbrook Homeowners Association President. It is a neighborhood that is almost directly across from the site.

He told FOX23 he saw the fence go up a few weeks ago. When he heard the word “radioactive,” it concerned him.

“Not good, glowing in the dark,” he said. “The water runoff there actually goes down to a creek in our neighborhood so whatever runoff comes off the top of that ground comes into our neighborhood.”

FOX23 spoke with David Robertson, an on-scene coordinator with the EPA. He said they don’t know what the radioactive material is coming from on the site, but the area was once a landfill back in the 1970s. Before the site was converted to a landfill, it was a coal mine.

He said Deaver, and other residents, shouldn’t worry about the radioactive material glowing or being dangerous.

“The contaminant in concern is Thorium 232, which is a naturally occurring radioactive element,” Robertson said. “It is not all that radioactive. You can hold it in your hand. It is not warm, it doesn’t glow, none of that stuff.”

He continued, “But what it does, as part of its natural breakdown, it produces a gas called Radon which if you were to build a building on the site it could trap it, and people could breathe it in.”

However, the EPA said when they previously examined the site, they thought they could remove what they believed was just over 3,000 tons of radioactive material. Now, Robertson said that number has grown.

“We think it’s about 17 times that much,” he explained. “The first thing that crossed my mind was, ‘Did we miss something that we were supposed to find?’ The answer is, ‘I am not sure.’”

Robertson continued, “The site has been evaluated by the Brownfields program, the state evaluated it and in any case, as part of the removal program, it is still too big for us to get our arms around. So ultimately, if we had come out here knowing there was that much, we would have proposed to put a cap on it and a fence around it.”

Deaver learned Tuesday just how much more radioactive material was found.

“Wow, that is all you can really say,” he said.

Robertson said they went from trying to remove it to now burying it safely.

“What we are doing is putting a clay cap on the site on the radioactive portion, a clay cap and two compacted clay layers each about six inches, and building a fence around the site,” Robertson said.

Robertson said the EPA took ground and water samples from a nearby creek to see if there is a larger impact.

He said the samples will take a couple of weeks to be processed.

“We do not anticipate any impact in the drinking water or any off-site impacts at all,” Robertson said.

The EPA said they are working to find out who is responsible for the material.

“We have an enforcement program that is trying to find the person who generated and disposed of this kind of waste. That is where we are putting our energy because of the superfund law they could be liable for the cost of the cleanup,” he said.