A Small Town’s Battle Against Radioactive Fracking Waste

After an illegal dumping of close to 2,000 tons of dangerous sludge and contaminated materials across the street from two schools, a Kentucky community struggles with what to do next.

Estill County isn’t the kind of place you’d think would have a radioactive waste problem. Half of this quiet, unassuming nook of eastern Kentucky is covered like a quilt with farmhouses and churches, while the other half rests in the shade of Daniel Boone National Forest.

In Estill’s center, nestled between the Appalachian foothills and the Kentucky River, sits Irvine (population 2,400). Route 89 slices through town as Main Street, crossing the river via a light-green truss bridge on its way to the middle and high schools. Right across the street from the schools, which serve students from all over the county, sits the local landfill.

So when news broke in early 2016 that the local landfill had for months been illegally burying 1,900 tons of radioactive—and potentially carcinogenic—material, this tight-knit community was shocked.

“It’s an insult to the intelligence of the people who live here,” says Nancy Farmer, a lifelong resident who spent 34 years on the Estill County Board of Education. “It’s certainly insulting that life in Estill County is being valued less than life anywhere else, because they’re willing to put this kind of material close to students in two different schools.”

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