K-State to clean up toxic landfill near stadium

MANHATTAN —For a quarter-century, faculty and staff members at Kansas State University dumped boxes, buckets and barrels of low-level radioactive waste into trenches in a pasture on the north side of campus.

As many as 175 chemicals were tossed into the university's landfill.

"Whatever people had to pack things in," Steven Galitzer, director of the Department of Environmental Health and Safety at K-State, said in an interview Wednesday.

Remediation of soil and groundwater contamination linked to the landfill's contents may cost the university $4 million.

Tritium, carbon-14 and other radioactive elements were placed into the "Atomic Waste Burial Plot" adjacent to the Wildcats' football stadium from 1961 to 1987, according to a consultant's report prepared for K-State and submitted to the Kansas Department of Health and Environment in August.

Acids, solvents and other hazardous chemical waste, including the carcinogen 1,4-dioxane, which blends easily with water, were added to the landfill during an undetermined period of years that ended in the 1980s.

The landfill was closed in 1987, and testing for the spread of pollutants was initiated in 1990. Water samples from 31 test wells indicate toxins are migrating underground. The radioactive tritium was detected in groundwater collected from a monitoring well close to the landfill. The 1,4-dioxane was discovered outside the fenced enclosure in a drainage creek on campus.

The university's plan is to spend as much as $4 million on the cleanup project. Intercepting and treating tainted water in the underground plume is to begin by the end of 2010.

Workers in hazardous materials suits are expected to start digging, sorting and hauling away contents of the landfill in January 2012.

Bruce Shubert, a K-State vice president for finance and administration, said bonds would be issued to finance the project. The university's share of faculty research grants, a category known as overhead, may be drawn upon to cover the debt.

The annual cost to K-State of monitoring the landfill site is about $300,000 .

K-State followed all government regulations regarding hazardous and radioactive waste disposal while operating the landfill, Galitzer said.